Office Christmas parties have become synonymous with drunken blunders, career ruining comments, overzealous use of mistletoe and generally scandalous conduct.

This is a real shame. The annual Christmas party is often the one opportunity each year employees have to come together in a social setting. For your staff this should be real morale booster and a memorable evening – but for the right reasons!

The altered social dynamic and, often gratuitous, amounts of alcohol pose an obvious risk and this has made Christmas parties a potential minefield for employers. Here are 5 easy steps for ensuring your Christmas party goes off without a hitch…

Pre-party communications

The obvious first step in making your festive gathering is a success is sending out the right invitation.

Include all staff, not forgetting those on maternity, paternity and, where appropriate, sick leave. This helps avoid hurt feelings and any accusations of discrimination. Think about the timing of your event – parties outwith office hours could be problematic for staff with other commitments.

Attendance shouldn’t, of course, be obligatory and those who can’t, or don’t want to, attend shouldn’t be vilified as a result.

As well as mentioning the time, venue, dress code, and important secret Santa instructions, make clear that the party is an extension of the workplace and that certain standards of behaviour are expected. Users of Brodies’ Workbox can access example guidelines.

Harassment and discrimination

As you’ll be well aware, the office Christmas party is an ‘extension of the workplace’. You could be liable for harassment or discrimination by your employees at the event, unless you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent this.

Equality and diversity training should already form part of your normal staff training, but it’s worth including a reminder of your policy in your pre-party communication. If you spot something untoward in the course of the night, take appropriate steps to curtail it.

Consider religious and cultural requirements: ensure there are non-alcoholic drinks available and if you are serving pork or beef, provide an alternative for those who can’t eat these for religious reasons. Check the accessibility of the venue so disabled employees and guests can attend. Ensure any organised entertainment isn’t likely to cause offence.

Watch what you say…

Regardless of how well intentioned or careful you are to avoid concrete promises, avoiding discussions about career prospects or pay is undoubtedly the best approach.

In a jovial atmosphere where some employees may have over imbibed it takes very little for a few words of encouragement to be mistaken as a promise. Reneging on this after the tinsel has been put back in its box might not always be easy.

Likewise, divulging confidential information, or gossiping about other employees, aren’t particularly wise moves.

Social media

Inappropriate use of social media is obviously not just a Christmas problem, but over the festive period Dutch courage may get the better of decorum and with plenty of opportunity for compromising photos this can result in the perfect storm.

Not only embarrassing for your business; online gossiping could lead to harassment and discrimination claims.

If you don’t already have a social media policy, this would be a good time to implement one; if you do, a timely reminder in your pre-party communication will do no harm, and possibly much good.

Workbox users can access our template social media policy.

Post-party

It will come as no surprise to any employer that a spike in absence often coincides with the “morning after the night before”. If employees are due to return to work the following day, your pre-party communication can gently remind them of this. Return to work meetings immediately after any sickness absences can be a deterrent for those considering a day in bed.

Be alert for anyone still under the influence of alcohol; think about any health and safety risks especially where machinery or driving is involved.

If you do get complaints following an event, act promptly and, if appropriate, follow up in terms of your grievance and / or disciplinary policy.

So there you have it, 5 easy steps to a merry Christmas and a happy (disciplinary and dismissal free) New Year!

If you have any concerns about your Christmas party please get in touch with your usual Brodies’ contact.