The annual Christmas office party can be a major headache for employers. Whilst staff rejoice in festivities enjoying food and drink courtesy of the boss, employers should be adequately protected from employment law issues that could arise in cases where workers have taken the festive fun too far.

From an employment law perspective the annual Christmas party can be fraught with situations where liability may arise, from planning the event to the behaviour of employees on the night. However, we are not suggesting employers should adopt the role of Scrooge over the Christmas period in fear of falling victim to an employment law claim. By taking these simple steps employers can ensure they avoid the pitfalls but still manage to spread some festive cheer:

1) Secure a suitable venue. The premises of the party should be suitable for everyone, comply with health and safety regulations and have suitable access for disabled staff. If you are unsure arrange a visit to your venue of choice carrying out a quick risk assessment and familiarise yourself with the venues policies.

2) Open to all to attend. It is vital that employers ensure the party is timed so that all employees regardless of gender, religion, disability or any other factor have the opportunity to attend. Should any section of the work force be seen to be discriminated or favoured in any way employers could find themselves under question under the Equality Act 2010.

Ensure where partners are invited, everyone is made to feel welcome and is not discriminated against because of age, race, sexual orientation etc.

3) Transport. Employers may also be liable for an accident that has been caused following the Christmas party due to drink driving. A step in place to provide transport after the party is a good idea to prevent this from happening.

4) It is likely that the party will involve the consumption of alcohol, which can when consumed in access have an undesirable effect on people’s behaviour. In order to prevent this, employers must be sensible in their provision of alcohol and be alert to take quick action to nip unruly behaviour in the bud.

BE WARNED: Where an unlimited bar is available it may be felt the employer facilitated the behaviour of their workers by providing a free flowing supply of alcohol.

5) Set your stall out. Prior to the event, employers might consider communicating a set of policies and procedures in relation to harassment, discrimination and bullying. Employers should give examples of what is and what is not acceptable, making it clear that such behaviour may lead to disciplinary action.

6) Secret Santa. Although secret Santa may seem like harmless fun it is important to ensure that ‘joke’ gifts do not come across as offensive. Manage this risk by imposing a low price limit on the gift and enjoy an extra stocking filler risk free.

If reading the above has made you feel inclined to cancel Christmas and opt out of the annual office festivities, remember that staff Christmas parties are proven to increase staff loyalty and boost team morale. Where sufficient prior preparations are made, employers can relax on the night; safe in the knowledge that they have taken steps to ensure the safety of their staff and avoiding potential liability.

If you require further advice on any of the HR and employment law issues arising from the above issues or any other HR and employment law matter please contact Commercial HR & Employment law team at Farleys Solicitors LLP on 0845 287 0939 or alternatively please complete our online enquiry form.