It is fast approaching that time of year whereby Christmas office parties are in full swing. Organising a staff event is a great way to show your employees that you value and appreciate the work they have done throughout the year and it’s a great way of bringing the team together. However, work-related social events do come with their risks and businesses need to be mindful of their obligations when it comes to organising the Christmas office party in relation to two areas:
- Maintain the safety and welfare of the employees. An employer’s obligations under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act extends to work-related social events.
- Take preventative measures to minimise incidents occurring at the event. These could range from minor grievances right through to discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment.
So what can your business do to minimise the risk of an incident happening at the Christmas office party?
Step 1 – When selecting a venue, place Health and Safety at the top of the agenda
You may want to select the coolest venue in town for your staff or to hold something in the office but remember put health and safety at the top of your agenda. The first being that a party in the office may not be the best location for your event. If you do use an offsite venue, ask yourself the following questions:
- Can the room or space you are selecting comfortably fit your numbers?
- Are the fire exit doors clearly visible, free of obstruction and easy to access?
- Can employees with disabilities access the venue with ease?
- Could someone easily slip on the floor?
- Is the venue close to public transport links and taxis?
Step 2 - Raise awareness of relevant employment policies in advance of the event
You have selected your venue and you have announced the date of the party. The next step is to remind staff of the following:
- That the company social event is an extension of the workplace and any breach of company policies at the event will be treated in the same manner.
- That all employees have a duty of care to remember their health and safety obligations. Also detail what types of behaviour are unsafe and unacceptable.
- Highlight your policies on bullying and harassment, equality, disciplinary and grievance procedure as well as the health and safety policy. You can either reissue these on the notice board, company intranet or by email to all employees.
- Anticipate that drug use could be taken at the event so ensure staff are made aware that this is a criminal offence as well as a disciplinary matter and will be treated accordingly.
Step 3 – Brief your managers
In the lead up to the event, ensure managers are briefed on how to deal with inappropriate behaviour and how to manage any awkward conversations that could arise such as performance issues, pay related matters or previous grievances. A good tip to manage those awkward conversations is for the manager to let the employee know they will meet with them in the coming days to discuss the matter back in the office.
Step 4 – Managing the event on the night
There may be a temptation to run an open bar with X amount for the drinks, but this may incur two risk issues:
- Some staff might binge drink in a short space of time.
- Slower drinkers may not get a fair share of the bar tab which could cause grievances.
The fairest and safest method is to give each staff member a few drink tokens and ensure that there is plenty of food also available as this will help soak up the alcohol.
Actively encourage your staff to leave the car at home and avoid drink driving. You may be able to work out a deal saver with a local taxi firm to get staff home safely or provide subsidised transport if your budget allows for this.
Ensure one or two managers remain sober throughout the event in case of an incident arising.
Have a clear start and end time and ensure that all staff leave the venue by the specified end time.
Step 5 – Manage misconduct or other issues swiftly and fairly
The risks of misconduct or other issues can be much higher at work-related events. It is important to treat all incidents quickly and fairly. Some can be managed immediately such as horseplay but for more serious incidences, it is important to follow your policies and that fair procedures are followed throughout the entire process.
You can download our guidance on running a work-related social event here or if you have a specific issue please contact Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01 605 1668.