Christmas has rolled around yet again, and most offices will be celebrating the end of the year with their staff Christmas party. Many of you might have experienced the usual shenanigans – someone gets drunk and tells the boss what they really think of them, staff hook up, someone insults someone else with a racist or sexist joke, and someone falls off a table while trying to belt out the lyrics to Eye of the Tiger.

All sounds like innocent fun, right?

Mmmm, stop right there!

Whilst celebrating with your time is fun and important you need to be mindful of your responsibilities in the workplace

This means balancing the fun within the boundaries of risk. It can be a bit more involved than simple booking the venue and paying for some food and drinks.

Before the party

  • Understand the risks & liability. Even though you are not in your normal work environment, you need to understand how to respond to any incidents that may occur at the Christmas party, such as harassment or workplace health and safety issues. You also have to maintain a duty of care in relation to your teams and you are still required to comply with work health and safety obligations.
  • Take practical steps. To make sure you and your team are protected at your Christmas party, it’s important to have the following in place:
    • Have workplace policies in place including codes of conduct relating to work functions and the responsible consumption of alcohol.
    • Remind everyone of these policies and their responsibilities including what is unacceptable behaviour.
    • Make it clear to employees that post-party activities are on their own time and the company does not endorse activities that occur after the finish time.

Check that your insurance policies cover the type of function you’re planning.

During the party.

  • Watch alcohol consumption – In an environment where alcohol is available, it’s essential to keep an eye on how much is being consumed and make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks & water available.
  • Provide plenty of food. This will help relax people and also help slow down the impacts of alcohol consumption.
  • If the party is away from the office, consider organising transport to ensure everyone gets to and from the venue safely.
  • If you become aware of inappropriate behaviour by an employee, take immediate steps to stop the behaviour.  If someone has had too much to drink, send them home.
  • Social media – We all love a good Christmas party photo however you should remind people of your social media policy (if you don’t have one, then get one). Also, consider which photographs you publish on the company’s Facebook page. (there is always one that has someone in the background doing something interesting….)

What else to consider

Have a plan to deal with any incidents or complaints promptly and properly if they occur. Consider the following:

  • Attendance may be voluntary
  • Make sure the event is after working hours and offsite.
  • Encourage staff to bring their partners.
  • Set out respectful rules, particularly as alcohol can reduce inhibitions and can lead to sexual harassment or discrimination claims.
  • If you do serve alcohol, hire a bartender who knows how to look after those that are drinking too much.
  • Arrange free transportation so no one needs to drive home after drinking.

You don’t have to turn into the office Grinch, but you do need to be aware of your obligations and manage them accordingly. If not, the Christmas buzz will turn into new year blues.