How to stop your goose being cooked this Christmas

It is Christmas party time again. Every year without fail my clients say 'Oh Kate, for goodness sake, stop fussing!' And every year someone comes back to me and says "Er, didn't take your advice. Matey boy got drunk and...' Then we're into damage limitation.

by Kate Russell
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

So in my annual role as work Christmas party pooper I write to remind you that alarm bells might replace jingle bells if you’re not aware of the potential risks, such as harassment, alcohol-fuelled arguments and post-party absenteeism.

1. Ask but don’t require staff attend the office Christmas party. 

Christmas is a Christian festival, so do not put pressure on someone to attend if they do not want to on religious grounds.

2. It’s OK to decorate the office!

You might offend the style police with garish tinsel, but so long as safety rules are observed, it’s fine.

3.Don't let the Bad Santas spoil the fun

Remind employees that Secret Santa gifts must be appropriate and inoffensive.

4. The work Christmas party is just that; a party given by work.  

Remind employees that while you want them to have a good time, if they engage in language or behaviour that would result in discipline in the cold and sober light of day, it’s equally applicable at the party. Drunkenness is not a defence.

5. If it's on your watch, it's your problem

Employers can be vicariously liable for wrongful acts by employees (harassment, discrimination, assault or other unwanted conduct) even if it takes place at the office party.

6. Everything in moderation

Consider restricting the offer of free alcohol available and be prepared to ask individuals to take it easy if they appear worse for wear. Making food available early on helps soak up the booze. Be respectful of employees who, for whatever reason, do not drink. Ensure a plentiful supply of alcohol-free alternatives – and lots of water. Keep an eye out too for the office junior. Employers cannot allow under-18s to drink.

7. Be considerate of non-Christians

Remember that employees of certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat certain foods. Check beforehand about any special dietary requirements, so that these can be accommodated. By the way, UK catering for vegetarian food generally is pretty dire, so see if you can get something a bit more interesting than the ubiquitous vegetable lasagne or stilton and broccoli quiche. Just because it’s got a bit of cranberry sauce on the side doesn’t make it any more exciting!

8. When it comes to HR, 'in vino veritas'

Don’t make alcohol fuelled promises of promotion or pay rises. They’re binding.

9. Consider how your employees will get home after the party.  

Issue advice about not drinking and driving, as an employer might still be responsible for their employee driving home from an office party. Think also about providing transport home.

10. Be clear about your expectations regarding absence the next day.  

Ensure that all staff know the extent to which you will be lenient about coming to work late and that, if your expectations are breached, disciplinary action may be taken.

That's it from your Christmas Grinch for now. Have an enjoyable (and compliant) Christmas party!

Kate Russell is the MD of Russell HR Consulting.

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