Prepare for party pitfalls – or prepare for the consequences

Nov 30 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Boozy brawls, festive flirting and festering finger-food are creating a legal minefield for employers, making the annual office party one of the most risky corporate events of the year.

Croner Consulting has warned that our increasingly litigious culture means that not preparing for unforeseen eventualities could see alarm bells replace Jingle Bells for employers holding Christmas events this year.

Richard Smith, Croner's HR expert says: "Unfortunately, employers can’t just draft a disclaimer that says employees attend the party at their own risk, as the eyes of the law see the event as a work activity.

"With so many risks, some employers may be left wondering whether the Christmas party is worth the bother at all. But there are a lot of simple, proactive measures that can reduce the risk of problems during and after the event.

But rather than scrap the party all together, Croner has issued its "Top Ten Rules of the Yule" to help bosses host a safe celebration.

These include setting a party policy - because a Christmas party is classed as a ’work activity’ and should be treated as such by having guidelines in place - and carrying out a risk assessment to identify potential hazards, something which could even identify any potential conflict between employees so that table plans can be organised accordingly.

Behavioural guidelines should be included in the party policy which clarify unacceptable behaviour, such as harassment, bullying and fighting.

Employers also need to remember that if they supply alcohol, they may be legally responsible for the welfare of the employee if they suffer from drink induced disasters. They also need to issue strong advice about not driving after having an alcoholic drink and demonstrate that reasonable steps have been taken to minimise this risk.

What's more, they also need to decide to what extent they will be lenient to staff coming to work with a hangover, arriving late, or even not at all the next morning, and inform employees who need to drive or operate machinery not to drink too much alcohol or remove the risk to safety by giving them alternative work until they are fit to resume their normal tasks.

And of course, boozing bosses should avoid discussing promotion, career prospects or salary with employees who may use the convivial situation to discuss matters that are more suited to a formal appraisal or private meeting.

"Health & safety and employment laws are not intended to be a killjoy or a trap for employers," Richard Smith added, "but exist to make the working environment a safer and more pleasant place.

"As long as bosses can prove they have conducted a risk assessment and taken adequate measures to reduce the risks, they can relax and enjoy Christmas, knowing they have done everything they can to prevent the worst happening."