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Christmas comes but once a year…

Many clients will be dealing with issues over Christmas parties and the odd ‘sickie’ or two creeping in as Christmas revelling takes over. With the potential to drink in pubs for 24 hours it is important not to take your eye off the Christmas ball.

No one wants to be a party pooper and after all it is an opportunity to, at the least, round off the year with a smile and in some cases, if the employer is paying, it is a way of saying thank you for the support of the employees.

However, beware of the potential pitfalls.

If a party is a ‘Bloggs and Co’ Christmas party when bosses and staff attend then the employer is still the employer even at the party and employment law still has a part to play. Most parties will involve some alcohol and therefore behaviour will be affected. It is therefore important to limit alcohol to a reasonable level and ensure non-alcoholic drinks are available. If signs of drunken behaviour are observed then consumption should be curtailed. If there have been issues in the past then a timely memo before the event is valuable.

The effects of alcohol can lead to harassment whether or not sexual in nature and other discriminatory remarks. If alcohol is condoned then the employer could be liable for claims concerning fellow employees or indeed other people who may be using the same party venue. If incidents are alleged it is important to follow them up under normal grievance procedures. Once again it is not too late to issue guidelines before the party takes off.

Raffles are quite popular at party events. Remember, of course, that some religions do not condone gambling so make the ‘ticket touts’ aware that there should be no pressure selling.

It is important to consider how employees are to get home if you have permitted alcohol at the party. You have a duty of care and therefore ensure staff get home safely.

Hopefully, there won’t be enough free booze to lead to sickness the next day. If employees find they can’t get to the phone from their sick beds and perhaps, take a ‘sickie’ then providing you haven’t contributed to their plight then disciplinary action can be taken, whether formal or informal.

On a last note the issue of Christmas bonuses can be a thorny issue. If a business has traditionally given bonuses and then stops it could be argued the regularity has made it an implied term of the contract and the employee could argue it is due again.

In hindsight it is always wise not to let ‘discretionary’ payments drift on without substantiation and this basis for any ‘discretionary’ payment should be explained every time. If this hasn’t happened then it is best to hit the problem head on by announcing beforehand why the bonus won’t be so much. Better do it this way round than face staff unrest when the January blues kick in!

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