As we approach the holiday season many employers will be organising a Christmas party, or it might be organised by the staff themselves. Whoever is responsible, it is still a “work” event and needs to be subject to a few ground rules, as Val Moore explains.

Part of the working day

All employees and management should be aware that the Christmas party, or indeed any similar event, is an extension of the working day, but every year organisations such as ACAS are asked for advice from employers who fail to realise this.

The event may occur during an evening and in a more relaxed location, but it is still very much a fundamental part of work and all staff and management need to behave appropriately.

For example, employers must take seriously an employee who raises a complaint, say for harassment that occurred during the event, as they would as if it had happened in the workplace during normal working hours.

No one wants to be a killjoy or heavy-handed, but a few sensible words beforehand are in order to ensure a happy festive season.

Alcohol

Have a nominated person to look after the proceedings on the actual day or evening. Sensibly this person will stay clear of the mulled wine or other intoxicating beverages. Everyone should be aware of the effects of alcohol, particularly when it comes to judgment, so everyone should refrain from saying or doing something they will later regret: the Christmas party is not the place to speak one’s mind. As Phyllis Diller said: “What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.”

Give a gentle reminder, then: everyone is an ambassador for the company at all times and thus is expected to act in an appropriate manner. So putting drunken photos on social media is not appropriate behaviour. Within many contracts of employment it may state that it is a disciplinary offence to bring the provision into disrepute, and unruly behaviour at such an event would be included.

Getting home

Think about how people will get home after the event. Would non-drinkers be willing to give lifts to others? Would hiring, or using the provision’s minibus with a dedicated driver, be an option?

Consider the option of sharing taxis. Depending on the date and time it might be wise to pre-book them. Be clear about who is paying.

Including everyone

Where alcohol is provided ensure that sufficient non-alcoholic drinks are available for those that do not drink alcohol, or who are driving. Do be considerate of all religions. Consider dietary requirements, particularly where the employer or staff are supplying food, and ensure that the placement of that food allows for such sensibilities. Some people may feel uncomfortable to go to a pub and prefer a café/wine bar. The vast majority of non-Christians are very happy that Christmas is celebrated so there’s no need for oversensitivity.

Gifts

Some provisions have a policy regarding staff accepting presents from parents and carers. If the provision does have one, remind parents and staff of its contents. If there is no formal policy, consider giving some guidelines. This can avoid embarrassment.

Keep the cost of any gift at a reasonable level; perhaps suggest that the most suitable gifts are those that are given to the provision as a whole. This can avoid some staff receiving more gifts than others, or where the keyworker is given a gift, but the book-keeper and cook are not.

Suggest perhaps that gifts to the provision are made as “new year” gifts, so more perishable items like flowers and fruit open up the different types of gifts available to give, and gives a lift to staff after returning from the Christmas holidays

While on the subject of gifts, “Secret Santa” is a good way for everyone to receive a present, whilst limiting cash and time costs. Set a clear maximum of the amount that can be spent on the gift: do not set the level too high, to avoid embarrassing those who may find the costs difficult.

Issue a reminder that items that are risqué or offensive are not acceptable.

Secret Santas are simple to organise. The names of all participants are put in the hat; each person draws out a name of the person for whom they are to buy a present, and keeps it secret. Sometimes participants might have a shortlist of things they would like to receive (put on a noticeboard, or circulated).

The next day

Should the next day be a working day, issue a gentle reminder that everyone on duty next day needs to be on time, fit and well and not under the influence from the night before. This too may be a disciplinary offence within the terms of employment.

For all the comments made above, the vast majority of events will just be a happy enjoyable occasion. May your Christmas be full of highs.

Last reviewed 17 December 2014