Christmas party season is nearly here and whilst it is often a time when colleagues get together, let their hair down and celebrate the successes of the year it can also be a time of over consumption, inappropriate behaviour and employees waking full of regrets for things they have said and done!

Here are some tips for how employers should navigate the festive season:

  1. Make sure your Christmas party is inclusive. This means inviting everyone, including part-timers and those on family leave etc.
  2. Be respectful of those who may feel it’s harder to participate, for example, don’t organise an activity that somebody with a disability can’t take part in. Make sure there are soft drinks available for those who don’t drink.
  3. Set some expectations especially if you have experienced problems at or after the Christmas party in the past. Let people know that whilst you want them to have fun it’s also important to be respectful.
  4. Make sure everybody has a way of getting home safely.
  5. Finally, support the organiser – it can be a challenging and thankless task planning something for a whole team of people.

What if things go wrong?

That’s the planning side but what should employers do if things go wrong?

Be aware that when the drinks flow people can get carried away and will potentially display behaviours and views that they may not have expressed in the workplace. Managers need to have in mind before the event what sort of behaviours can be laughed off and what things are unacceptable.

Have a clear idea of what happens if things get out of hand and how it will be addressed on the return to work. Potentially it could be wise to have a rule that if it isn’t tolerated in the workplace, it won’t be tolerated outside (other than the consumption of alcohol.

It is vital that it is made abundantly clear that bullying, harassment, assault, and drugs will not be tolerated and that any incidents of such nature will be dealt with back at work where appropriate action will be taken.

The aftermath…

How things are handled will depend on the incident that took place. For example, if it looks like somebody’s behaviour is getting a bit much on the night, it could be wise to gently remind them that they still need to remain respectful when out with work. If the behaviour persists to stop it from escalating it might be a good idea to arrange for that person to leave before more damage is done and, with their permission, call them a taxi.

Once they return, call them in for an informal meeting.  Informal meetings don’t require 48 hours’ notice. Should it warrant it then follow up with a formal meeting with notice, this gives them the opportunity to get representation or somebody to come into the meeting for support should it be required.

If another staff member has made a complaint the procedure is slightly different and whilst it may vary from company to company these are some basic pointers to follow to ensure everybody gets heard and treated fairly.

  • If a member of staff has complained, then this will need to be investigated especially if there is a chance that disciplinary action may be taken as a result of the allegation.
  • The investigation should include speaking to the accuser and witnesses to try and form a picture of what has happened. You can’t just take someone’s word about what has happened without following a process as it could result in a claim of unfair dismissal later on.
  • An investigation requires the accused to be invited to a properly convened formal meeting (this means with two days’ notice and the right to representation) and making them aware of the allegation and outlining the steps involved in the investigation process. If the investigating officer finds there is a case to be answered, then a disciplinary hearing will be called to determine an appropriate sanction.

The embarrassment factor

It will depend on your company but as a general rule for things like people having a few too many drinks and moaning about their job there is no need for any action, normally the person’s embarrassment will be enough to stop them doing it again. The same with general overconsumption.

If it is a case of the employee behaving in a way that is embarrassing, they are extremely drunk and/or sick then this is more of a problem for them than the employer provided their behaviour doesn’t breach any company policies (drugs, harassment, violence etc). However, if it seems to be a pattern of potentially destructive behaviour somebody might want to have a word with them and check they are ok and that there aren’t other things going on for them.

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Katy Foster
Senior HR Consultant at Cream HR | + posts

Katy Foster is the Senior HR Consultant at Cream HR.  She holds a CIPD Level 7 Award in Human Resources; and has more than a decade of HR and management experience behind her, and benefits from a varied background including the education sector and the hospitality industry.  She specialises in Organisation Development & Design, Employment Relations and Learning & Development.