Business Law: Abi Adams on how employers can avoid a festive headache

EMPLOYMENT issues surrounding the festive events of December often cause headaches (in more ways than one!) for both employers and employees.

Office parties, holiday requests, bonuses, adverse weather and different religious traditions mean that employers can find themselves treading a difficult line.

Christmas parties often cause the greatest concern to employers, with potential issues of harassment and other types of discrimination, alcohol-induced indiscretions and absenteeism the following day.

It is sensible to remind staff of the standard of behaviour that is expected of them and what will happen in the event of employee misconduct. This may be by way of a specific policy on social events, or making reference in existing policies such as those dealing with harassment, equal opportunities or conduct.A company-wide email may also be appropriate; provided this is suitably worded, this usually suffices without appearing too Scrooge-like.

Possibly the greatest concern for an employer is accusations of harassment. Any post-party grievances should be treated seriously and sensitively, and not dismissed by virtue of the fact that it occurred during a festive gathering.

Contrary to popular belief, employers can be held liable for employees’ actions during a social event, even if this is in a party environment and out of work hours, so any inappropriate behaviour or unwanted conduct should be treated as they would be had they occurred in the office.

If employers act consistently in all cases, and make employees aware of what is and is not acceptable, their actions will generally be considered reasonable.

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Another consideration is the disciplinary issues that may arise when employees fail to attend work the day after a party. Employers should ensure that all staff are clear in relation to expectations and the disciplinary action to be taken if those expectations are breached. To avoid allegations of unfairness, employers should be consistent, especially if there has been tolerance in the past.

Overall, appropriate management and preparation are key to ensuring negative repercussions are avoided and that the festive season can be enjoyed by everyone.

: : Abi Adams is a solicitor with law firm Ashton KCJ.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. We would advise you to seek professional advice before acting on this information.

Ashton KCJ is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (Recognised Body number 45826) and by the Financial Services Authority.

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