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© South East Employers 2018

Employment A-Z




Here are our light hearted top ten tips for HR colleagues to help you stay sane this Christmas.

  1. Employees sometimes do stupid stuff. At Christmas time and otherwise.

  2. Just deal with it.

  3. Resist the urge to worry too much about vicarious liability, discrimination and constructive dismissal. Although it is probably a good idea not to put up any mistletoe in the office or at the party.

  4. Resist the urge to write any sort of policy.

  5. Resist the urge to put any sort of disclaimer about behaviour in any Christmas party related literature. If someone wants to punch Bob from Accounts on the dance floor after 12 pints of beer then they will do it anyway. See points 1 and 2.

  6. Resist the urge to write special rules about absence from work after social events. See point 2.

  7. Apply Christmas common sense.

  8. Avoid sprouts in an office environment at all times.* This is especially important in small or poorly ventilated offices.

  9. Never, EVER, buy Secret Santa presents from Ann Summers.**

  10. Enjoy yourself. Put a tree up. Eat a mince pie and some chocolate. Wear a Christmas Jumper. And if you feel yourself turning into the HR equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge, then eat another chocolate!

* A colleague once made her left over sprouts into soup and brought it into the office for lunch. Thankfully, we had opening windows.

** Yes, this has happened to one of us.

Above all, have a fantastic holiday season. From the Employment Team.

(List courtesy of


The Season to be Jolly Careful!

It is the season of merriment and good cheer! It is also the time of year that work Christmas parties are taking place up and down the country. Whilst employers want to reward their staff for their hard work during the year and see them enjoying the festivities, they also need to be aware of the dangers in allowing alcohol and staff to mix too freely!

An employer can easily find itself in a situation where they are deemed vicariously liable for the drunkenness, harassment and heated arguments between employees at work Christmas parties. This is because any acts committed at such events, will usually be in the "course of their employment" and liability is extended to work social events organised outside of office hours.

SEE have prepared a short guide to help you to protect your organisation from potentially costly and damaging claims:

  1. Set out, in writing, clear guidelines for what constitutes unacceptable behaviour in the workplace or in the course of employment. This is often found in the harassment or equal opportunities policy. An Employment Tribunal will want to see you taking reasonably practicable steps to educate your staff and prevent unacceptable behaviour taking place. Reasonable steps constitute taking a proactive approach. The policy should provide some examples of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour and explain why such conduct cannot be tolerated – for example, its potentially damaging consequences in relation to employee relations and reputation. Employees should be reminded of your policy in the run-up to your office party.

  2. Organisations should not encourage excess consumption of alcohol as they may be blamed, in part, for encouraging drunken behaviour. In the case of Williams & Ors v Whitbread Beer Company Limited, three employees, all of whom had been drinking to excess, became involved in a heated argument and fight after a seminar. All three were dismissed. They each brought claims to the Employment Tribunal and were able to successfully argue that their dismissals were unfair. Their employer had allowed a free bar and the Tribunal took the view that they had condoned the employees’ behaviour. Occupational health and safety legislation also requires employers to make provisions for the safety of their employees, and therefore, employers should remind staff that they should not drive whilst under the influence of alcohol. Often employers do not realise that their responsibility extends to ensuring that staff return home safely after hosting a Christmas party where large amounts of alcohol are served. Employers can consider ending the party before public transport stops running or provide the phone numbers for local cab companies and encourage staff to use them.

  3. Harassment at work includes behaviour that is sexual in nature. Comments made at an office party that are intended to be a joke and are made with no ill intent can easily be perceived by another to be offensive and degrading - this could easily result in a claim. Employers that do not deal with complaints of harassment arising from work functions may expose themselves to claims of breach of contract, sex, race, sexual orientation discrimination or constructive dismissal. Failure to deal with the issue can also lead to stress related sickness and absence from work. Employers should look to follow speedy but fair and thorough grievance and disciplinary procedures. Whilst we can appreciate that the Christmas break could delay matters, especially as employees may be granted extended leave at this time, such delays will not justify the failure to follow normal procedure.

  4. You also need to select a venue that ensures all employees can attend if they wish to do so – for example, the venue must be accessible to disabled people and should not preclude anyone from any religion. Also consider timing – a lunchtime event might be more convenient for those with childcare responsibilities or holding an event on a Friday evening might exclude those who practice the Jewish faith where Sabbath begins on a Friday evening. You should also ensure that there is a choice of non-alcoholic drinks. In addition, employees who hold certain religious beliefs may be vegetarian or unable to eat certain foods such as pork, beef or shellfish and therefore vegetarian or vegan options should be provided.

  5. Do employees participate in Secret Santa? Secret Santa can also result in sexual harassment complaints, and therefore, it is a good idea to inform staff that any gifts bought should not be offensive or sexual in nature.

  6. Remember to remind staff that any unauthorised absence which occurs on the day after the Christmas party may result in disciplinary action. However, you should act consistently – if you normally turn a blind eye to absence after a Christmas party, think twice before you use it as a reason to discipline or dismiss an employee.