Beware of Christmas carnage

Dec 13 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

The generosity of the estimated six out of 10 employers who foot the bill for their Christmas party will backfire in many cases, with too much booze being blamed for fighting between colleagues at half of work Christmas parties.

In spite of this, employment law firm Croner suggests that most bosses are not cancelling Christmas, with almost nine out of 10 saying they will be holding a Christmas party this year and eight out of 10 planning to hold one next year.

But in line with other seasonal surveys, Croner warns that parties put employees are at significant risk of harassment or injury, with more than a third of employers reporting incidents of sexual harassment, and almost a quarter experiencing accidents involving employees at their festive celebration.

Anecdotes from employers ranged from verbal fighting between two colleagues over a girl, to physical violence where an employee struck a manager.

One employer polled simply reported "inappropriate behaviour mainly due to the consumption of alcohol".

The days of gathering grimly in the works' canteen appear to be numbered with just one per cent saying they would be holding the party on company premises.

Most said they would have expect a disco and buffet (60 per cent) or meal in a restaurant (29 per cent). Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, said: "The Christmas party is potentially an HR manager's nightmare, but the fact that the vast majority of employers say they will still be holding one in spite of the risks is a great sign that the custom is far from dead.

"The problems lie in that parties inevitably involve alcohol and, while the drinks are free, employees are likely to drink more than they normally would," he added.

He continued: "It would be unreasonable, if not impossible, to ban alcohol altogether, but we would advise putting a sensible limit on the amount of free drinks per employee.

"It's not really surprising that fighting and sexual harassment have emerged as significant problems at parties, so employers would have little defence if they had failed to consider how to prevent them.

"However, what we find in practice is that, although very serious incidents do occur, most can be sorted out through standard grievance procedures before a formal complaint is made which could in the worst case lead to a tribunal claim," he concluded.