Last reviewed 3 December 2020

This article forms part of this year’s Christmas series, being published on the site until the end of December.

Christmas is usually a time of cheer and celebration but the impact of coronavirus requires some extra consideration from employers. Opeyemi Ogundeji, researcher and employment law writer at Croner-i, explores some viable, Covid-conscious ideas below.

The pandemic has meant that employers have had to make a lot of changes to the way their businesses usually operate including putting their company Christmas custom under strict review. Christmas will have to be a little different this year. As a way of keeping spirits high and sending 2020 off with hopes for a brighter 2021, it is understandable that employers will want to find alternative ways of giving their staff the chance to enjoy the Christmas period.

A virtual party

This is arguably the safest and cheapest way to conduct a party during coronavirus. Staff can find creative ways to have fun virtually and no health and safety risks are likely. However, there are some important things that employers should be aware of.

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for employers to keep their employees’ wellbeing in mind, much more than ever before. This is why, even with something that can be considered a “treat” for employees, staff members who have struggled mentally with work-related stresses or who are working carers may not want to partake in a Christmas party this year, however well-intentioned it may be on the employer’s part. It is therefore advisable that remote parties should be optional and not constrained to a certain timeframe in which staff must be in attendance — they should be able to join and leave as they please.

Those who are attending should be carefully considered. This is so no one is excluded from any activities during the party. For example, if an employee does not drink alcohol and a virtual wine tasting activity makes up the bulk of the event, this person would not be able to contribute to the fun and may feel left out. Therefore, it may be better for employers to ensure that there is a wide range of activities available that cater to all individuals in attendance.

That said, when attendees, and potential attendees, have been established and the activities have been finalised, details could be sent to them by email. Employers may also want to use that email to set out their rules on attendance — it could highlight that the same conduct is expected of them at a remote party as it would be at an in-person event. Employers may also want to consider outlining that the same disciplinary procedures would apply in a situation where an employee commits a form of misconduct during the event. Similarly, employees should be made aware that the same grievance procedure also applies — to ensure that if company rules are broken by an employee, or they have a grievance with the company itself, the affected employee will be able to raise this with the company.

Early finish day

Not a party as such, but an early finish day gives staff the opportunity to spend the rest of their day how they please — whether it’s by relax, catching up on some Christmas shopping, or spending it with family.

Allowing staff to finish early could also act as a compromise for either having to be content with a smaller Christmas party than normal, or no party at all. It may contribute towards keeping staff morale high in the hope that employers ultimately retain their remaining workforce after potentially having to put staff on long periods of furlough and/or making others redundant.

Employers must be careful with this though, because if staff are allowed to finish early at the same time, it may cause congestion at exits — whether staircases or elevators. Therefore, it is advisable that, if an early finish is the route they go down, employers stagger this as far as possible by allowing only a handful of staff to finish at the same time per day. This way, social distancing measures can be adhered to.

Staggered outdoor party

An outdoor party is safer, but employers must be aware that even while outdoors, coronavirus restrictions must always be adhered to; as well as keeping in mind that the wintertime isn’t always weather friendly — it could be cold and/or rainy. Whilst a safe option, an outdoor party may take a little bit more organising. It may be difficult to find an appropriate outdoor venue to use for staff— this may be easier for smaller organisations, though — and employers must figure out whether a better move would be to split staff up into smaller groups to accommodate this.

A workplace party

Employers should consider the size of any gathering to be held in the workplace to ensure that social distancing is followed. Where departments are large, they could be split into smaller groups. This will allow:

  • employers to be able to unite teams during this difficult period

  • an aspect of normality

  • the opportunity of fun for all staff

  • a safer environment for all.

Employers should be aware, however, that groups of people — especially if alcohol is being served and consumed — may be less likely to socially distance, which raises the concern of a potential spread of the virus from asymptomatic employees.

No party at all

When all is said and done, the reality of this year is that it may not be at all practicable to allow for any kind of celebration, or perhaps it is that employers cannot prioritise a party at this time over their workload. Whatever the reason may be, staff will likely be understanding if a party does not go ahead. It also means that employers will not be liable for the HR issues that may occur during a Christmas party, such as harassment. However, employers should be advised that staff morale may be significantly reduced as a result.

Takeaway

As difficult as this year may have been on both employers and staff, a Christmas party shouldn’t cause added pressure. Employers should communicate their decision with staff to ensure that they are not left wondering what the rest of the year will bring, whether it’s that a Christmas party will go ahead with Covid-secure measures in place, or that it just will not be feasible this year. Employers who are still unsure can request ideas from staff on how they would feel comfortable celebrating Christmas at work this year.