News and legal updates for small businesses in the UK.

Office Party Survival Guide For Small Employers

“Tis the season to be jolly,” is a festive message we can all get behind. But, along with the joy of the proverbial office party, comes with it the extraordinary risk of alcohol-fuelled bad behaviour, because according to academic research people who drink in environments not normally associated with drinking – like office parties – find it harder to control their behaviour.

And, since office parties are considered ‘office hours’, employers are duty bound to prevent, manage and if necessary discipline staff who behave badly at these events. If bad behaviour: harassment, verbal or physical abuse, occurs at any point during the office party, even at 2am, it may come back to bite you in the form of an employee grievance. It you don’t deal with the grievance effectively, it might end up in court, as office party infractions are a frequent source of employment tribunal claims.

So, what can employers do to ensure a fun but safe office party environment? One of the simplest things to do is to have a simple code of conduct and clear policy around anti-harassment. Ideally, it should include some examples of unacceptable behaviour so employees really do understand what behaviour is considered unacceptable.

The best way to make this known to staff is to use an employee handbook containing an: anti-harassment policy, code of conduct, and disciplinary and grievance policy, the latter two of which can help you deal with bad behaviour after it’s occurred.

However, just preparing a policy is not enough, as studies suggest that 40% of workers don’t read most of the employee handbook and 11% haven’t opened it and 36% have no idea where the employee handbook is. That’s why we’d recommend that you have a direct link from your company intranet homepage to an on-line version of the employee handbook, so employees can access it at any time.

Employees should be informed as to the whereabouts of the handbook when they join and perhaps reminded of it’s location at key points of the year when employees may need to check policies such as before the summer holiday season and prior to the start of the flu season. You might also want to send out a memo to staff prior to the office party reminding them of their duties to behave responsibly towards each other – and pointing them towards the employee handbook to read the code of conduct.

It could also be worth taking a second look at your alcohol/drug misuse policy as mid-week, late night festivities, (including your office party), could result in your staff smelling of alcohol the next day. While this may be socially undesirable, recent case law suggests, it’s broadly permissible, as long as they are not under the influence or their performance is not impaired. It might be worth encouraging staff to book leave, or work a pre-agreed late-shift following mid-week, late night festivities to avoid this uncomfortable situation occurring too often.

Have a fun and safe office party and festive season at your business.

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