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How to host a claim-free Christmas Party

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Christmas time is here again, bringing with it all the usual tinsel covered fun and frivolity. In keeping with modern tradition, many employers will be holding Christmas parties for their employees to celebrate the end of hopefully another successful year. The idea is simple: have a nice meal or gathering, perhaps add in a few drinks, it should be a good night… shouldn’t it?

However employers must remember that a Christmas party is treated as an extension of a workplace; and so any untoward acts committed by the party going employees could mean that the employer finds itself vicariously liable for discriminatory acts committed by those it employs.

The Equality Act 2010 specifically states that anything done by the employee in the course of employment must be treated as being done by the employer also, but the Act goes further than this. It does not matter whether the employer approves or even has knowledge of the act committed by the employee, they can still be held to account for the actions of their employees. Therefore whenever an employee discriminates on one of the protected characteristics, i.e. age, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, race, disability, marriage and civil partnership, the employer could face a discrimination claim. In a relaxed atmosphere, with the addition of a festive tipple, it may be much easier to envisage how not being aware of the law could bring employers a rather large headache in the New Year. What might be considered an innocent comment by one, might be taken with significant offence by another, and from there matters may snowball.

So what steps can an employer take to minimise the risk of a claim being brought as a result of inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party?

  • The employer must take all reasonable steps to prevent any discriminatory acts being committed. 
  • The emphasis is on steps taken before any discriminatory act is perpetrated, so for example by ensuring that there is a suitably robust and appropriate Equality and Diversity Policy in place. More than this though, are employees aware of this policy, and has it been regularly reviewed to reflect any legal updates?
  • In addition, employers need to think practically about their plans; is the venue suitable for all members of staff to attend and does it comply with Health & Safety Regulations?
  • Otherwise there is only so much an employer can do, and after all a Christmas party should be a great opportunity for staff members to celebrate and not a source of employment related problems.

Getting the basics right can save a lot of stress further on down the line, not just at Christmas but all year round.

If you need advice on holding a staff party that complies with employment legislation, or you have any other employment related matter, please contact our experienced Employment Team who will be more than happy to assist.

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