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Avoiding the headaches of the virtual Christmas party

21 December 2020
Avoiding the headaches of the virtual Christmas party

Whether you look forward to the Christmas party or view attending as a chore, the Christmas party brings together people who do not usually socialise together. Despite Covid-19, the majority of Christmas parties are continuing to take place, albeit online. Whilst the move online does reduce the number of HR problems Christmas parties may bring, it does not eliminate them all. The more relaxed environment, addition of alcohol and more personal conversations can cause opportunities for bad behaviour and offence to be caused, even if the interactions take place virtually. Serious Christmas party problems include sexual harassment, verbal abuse or hate speech and bringing the company into disrepute. Below are some considerations that may help avoid Christmas party problems:

Set an alcohol policy
It is common, and in some cases expected, that the employer will provide drinks as a way of showing their staff their appreciation for the hard work they have given during the year. However, just because alcohol may be provided does not mean that the Christmas party should be treated like a wild night on the town. It is not difficult to imagine the situations that may occur after one too many drinks, and in some case criminal behaviour may happen. Examples of drunken behaviour at a Christmas party which has resulted in an Employment Tribunal claim includes a woman who was held to be fairly dismissed for sexually harassing a male colleague and using racially and sexually offensive language and an employee who was held to have been fairly dismissed for punching a colleague on their walk home from the Christmas party. As a Christmas party is seen as an extension of the workplace, it is advisable that an alcohol policy is put in place to limit the number of drinks or remind them of the potential consequences of their drunken behaviour.

Avoid Indirect Discrimination
Christmas parties often result in unintended (indirect) discrimination especially if there are members of staff who do not celebrate Christmas. A popular virtual Christmas party is a “wine tasting zoom.” This may discriminate against those who do not drink for religious reasons or employees who are under 18. Employers should consider the entire workforce and plan an event that includes everyone, including those on maternity leave or on long term absence due to illness. If they cannot attend, they will appreciate the invite and if they can, it provides an opportunity to catch up with those rarely seen.

Consider the morning after
The morning after the night before, can bring many feelings, the main being a hangover. Surprisingly, the majority of Christmas parties do not take place on a Friday night. Employers may consider a later start time for the morning after the Christmas party or may treat it as a normal day and have a zero-tolerance approach to absences. The approach an employer takes should be considered ahead of time and confirmed to employees to avoid the need for disciplinary action as a result of behaviour the day after the Christmas Party.

While it may be seen as “Grinch like,” setting clear expectations and limits will prevent inappropriate behaviour. As an employer, it’s important to take the right decision at the right time, where employees fail to adhere to company policy and behave inappropriately.

If you find yourself having to deal with a disciplinary process, holding a grievance meeting or are considering terminating an individual’s employment because of their actions at a Christmas party, you should speak to an Employment/HR lawyer, as there are strict processes that must be followed to avoid any potential liability. To speak to an expert employment lawyer please email contact@davenportsolicitors.com or telephone 02079036888.


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