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Keep the season jolly, merry – and safe, says Lisa Bryson

Lisa BrysonLisa Bryson, employment expert at law firm Eversheds Sutherland, Belfast, provides some guidance to employers as the festive party season approaches.

It’s December! How has that happened? December arriving means that it’s ‘Festive Party Season’ again!

Does this mean it’s time to dust off the old festive advice and go to town on how you should police your work-related events? Given the sharpening focus on harassment in the workplace (and more generally), maybe it should.

Whether an office Christmas party takes place within working hours, out of hours, in the office or away from the office, it is considered an extension of the working environment.  While no one wants to be the office scrooge and take away the positive outcomes of an office Christmas party, employers do need to be aware of the risk of unsavoury incidents that could occur at such events and should take steps to minimise the risks and provide a safe environment for employees.

Here is some guidance which I hope ‘yule’ find helpful around some common-sense principles.

Things to consider:

  1. Make the event inclusive and remember to invite employees who are on family related leave or sick leave;
  2. Opt for a venue which is accessible to all employees and which is not likely to offend employees of a particular religion or sex for example;
  3. Select entertainment that is not likely to be viewed as offensive by any employees and also be mindful of those potentially inappropriate secret Santa gifts!;
  4. Remind employees about the Company’s expectations and policies in relation to disciplinary and grievance, harassment, and social media and define acceptable behaviour;
  5. Control the amount of free alcohol available, supply plenty of soft drinks and food bearing in mind employees who do not drink alcohol or have dietary requirements;
  6. Be prepared to deal with any allegations, inappropriate behaviour and violence seriously and sympathetically in line with the Company’s policies and procedures;
  7. Avoid talking shop – discussions about career prospects or remuneration with employees, as words of encouragement and good intentions could be misinterpreted; and
  8. HAVE FUN! – this one is optional, but it always helps!

If you are an employer and need further advice, contact Lisa at Eversheds Sutherland at [email protected] or on 02890 918604.