Top 10 Tips for Surviving the Festive Season

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine … may be fine when out with your friends but can create more than just a hangover for employers. As the festive season takes hold, we set out below the top ten tips for employers to avoid a new year full of grievance and disciplinary procedures.

1.    Secret Santa is an office tradition which is becoming increasingly popular.  Many offices now have a Secret Santa where staff buy their colleagues small gifts anonymously.  Whilst it might be tempting to buy someone novelty chocolate items or skimpy lingerie, this is clearly not appropriate at work.  So, before Santa distributes his presents, employees should be told the rules of the game.  No gifts of a sexual, obscene or offensive nature should be allowed.
2.    Who to invite?  Many employers host some form of Christmas party as a way of rewarding staff and boosting morale.  If you intend to invite husbands and wives to the event, make sure you also invite same-sex partners to avoid claims of sexual orientation discrimination.
3.    Don’t forget that as an employer you will be responsible for the actions of your staff, even at an event away from the office.  It is a good idea to have a senior person ‘in charge’ for the evening to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.

4.    Remind staff that they remain bound by workplace policies (e.g. Anti-Harassment and Bullying, Disciplinary, Equal Opportunities) whilst at a work Christmas party.  Many employers send their staff a short email at the start of the festive season setting out the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and reminding them about the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.

5.    When planning a work event, think about how much alcohol should be available as most incidents occur when the drink starts flowing and inhibitions fall away.  You should also ensure there is a ready supply of non-alcoholic drinks for those who do not drink alcohol for religious or personal reasons.  Thought should be given to how your staff are going to get home.  If the event ends very late, you may consider laying on transport.

6.    Don’t talk shop!  As the warm glow of the mulled wine kicks in you may be tempted to promise your favoured employees promotion or salary increases.  Don’t do it.  You may find such promises come back to bite you at pay review time. 

7.    David Cameron may be regretting the ‘selfie’ he took this week at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.  The consequences of office party ‘selfies’ or indeed any other compromising pictures making their way onto social media could be disastrous for your business.  Make sure that you have a social media policy in place and remind your staff that this applies to the office party too.

8.    If an issue does arise on the night, it is usually best to send employees home and deal with it the next day when the effect of any alcohol has worn off.  You should deal with any inappropriate behaviour under the disciplinary or grievance procedures in the usual way.  In both cases, this will start with an investigation.  You may need to suspend the employee whilst this happens.

9.    The next day.  Be clear before the event whether you are going to allow staff to come in late the next day.  If not, remind them that if they are not at work the next day, their absence will be treated as unauthorised absence under the disciplinary procedure.

10.  Have fun!

Petra Venton