Office parties are a highlight of the year for many; a chance to socialize, have fun, celebrate achievements, and share food and drink with colleagues. However, they also pose a potential recipe for an HR disaster. Alcohol, over excitement and being outside the office environment can lead to companies facing HR issues afterwards. How can a business plan ahead and minimize the risk of disciplinary actions, and even tribunal claims, the morning after?
In terms of liability, employers have a duty of care towards their employees at work and in situations arising through the course of their work. Events arranged by the employer are viewed as an extension of the workplace, so employers can be liable for any incidents that may cause harm, discrimination or harassment. Some employers worry that lecturing employees on appropriate behavior and monitoring everyone there would spoil the party. Therefore, a balance is needed so they can demonstrate a duty of care without taking away the fun.
Start by having a written policy that explains acceptable codes of behavior for company events. Make it clear that relevant aspects of your conduct, harassment, bullying and social media policies still apply for out of office events. Include reminders about reasonable consumption of alcohol and not using or bringing illegal substances. Summarize key points from your disciplinary policy so the repercussions from inappropriate conduct are clear. Email the policy to all employees so you can show acceptable standards of behavior were reinforced prior to the event. A simple email saying that you hope everyone has a great time but as it’s a work event they need to read the policy to ensure everyone enjoys it safely would be reasonable.
Reasonable consumption of alcohol is subjective. A free bar, several bottles of wine on each table or senior employees getting drunk could suggest an amount that could still fuel drunken, inappropriate behavior is acceptable. It would therefore be advisable to take precautions. Coupons could be provided to exchange for drinks, non-alcoholic drinks should be available or free, and a couple of senior employees should be tasked with supervising the event and remaining sober enough to look out for everyone’s wellbeing. It would also be wise to avoid a long drinking period before food, and to have nibbles available after the meal to further help soak up the alcohol.
If the event is ending late or is not easily accessible by public transport, consider safety returning home. A minibus, organized taxi sharing, or seeing if employees are willing to volunteer as designated drivers could help employees get home safely. When booking the venue, find one that allows everyone to be in the same area and isn’t overly dark, as it’s difficult to monitor employees on different floors or in dim lighting. If employees are allowed to bring a guest, organize this in advance by having named tickets; you will then be able to control numbers and know exactly who will be attending. Also respect cultural and religious differences by taking dietary requirements into account, and providing music and entertainment that would not cause offence.
Office parties are an extension of the workplace. They can be great for morale and team building, but it’s important for employers to show a duty of care. Minimize the risk of having to deal with HR issues the next day by taking steps to ensure the safety, well-being and enjoyment of all employees.
DFRI wishes you a safe and happy holidays.
For more information about our Human Resource Consulting services and on-demand packages please visit DFRIHR.com