As Christmas party season is nearly over, it seems that lunchtime events and team-building exercises have been favoured over the traditional boozy party.
Experts have reported that this year there has been a growing concern among employers over potential legal and reputational fall-out as a result of company festivities during the Christmas party season.
Instead, some employers opted for alcohol-free events, such as team building exercises as recent surveys have shown that an increasing number of employers favour experience-based events such as go-karting or indoor golf. They also prefer to invest in smaller celebrations scattered across the year rather than host a large party in order to bring the workplace together.
On the other hand, some employers refrained from diminishing the existence of Christmas parties by enforcing strict guidelines on the behaviour and conduct of employees at the party.
Initiatives such as assigning chaperones were also put into force to keep an eye on fellow colleagues. The Financial Times reported that accountancy firm BDO had introduced a ‘sober chaperone’ policy for its Christmas parties whereby each department nominates two people who would commit to being sober in order to ensure employees behaved responsibly and got home safely at the end of the night.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD and founder of workplace wellbeing organisation Robertson Cooper commented that “A lot of employers are introducing things like this for certain people who are most vulnerable” and that it goes much further than “just ensuring no one consumes too much alcohol, but about [safeguarding] people who have a disability or those who could be sensitive to what people might say to them in a more alcohol-inflamed situation”.
Work-related events take place throughout the year, not only at Christmas time. Therefore it is not a seasonal subject matter and should be at the forefront of employer’s minds throughout the year.
Employers can often find themselves to be vicariously liable for their staff’s wrongdoing which was the case in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd  when the Court of Appeal upheld the appeal that the Respondent was vicariously liable for the actions of its managing director who punched him which left him brain damaged.
The key for employers is to be able to show that they took reasonable steps before and during an event to prevent inappropriate behaviour happening in the first place.
Reasonable steps include:
- Ensure that there is a clear policy on the standards of behaviour at work-related events. It is helpful to give examples of inappropriate behaviour and the likely consequences
- Consider the need to provide transport or accommodation, and ensuring the venue is accessible to all
- Designate one or two senior members of staff to be in charge of the event and make sure that everyone is aware who they are
- Be responsible in the amount of alcohol you provide – for example, you could limit a certain amount of free alcohol per table or allow a limited number of free drinks per attendee
- If the event is taking place during the week, then make sure that they are reminded that they are expected to start at their normal time unless told otherwise.
Employers can only do so much to control the behaviour of staff at work-related events but taking these simple steps can be helpful. However, if something does go wrong, then it should be treated and investigated as a potential disciplinary incident.