Employers are usually legally responsible for the actions of their staff in a work environment. Most have policies in place which explain to staff the behavioural norms they have to follow and these often cover discrimination, harassment and bullying. Any member of staff who breaks the rules will usually be disciplined and, in serious cases, can be dismissed.
An organised work Christmas party will be work-related and employers should make sure that staff understand the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. But, employers don’t need to go overboard in terms of warning staff about what they can and can’t do at the staff party as most people understand that they need to show some restraint and can’t behave the way they might at a private party with their friends. It’s usually enough for employers to advise staff that while they are keen for them to let their hair down and relax, they are expected to conform to normal workplace standards.
But, if an employer is worried that things may get out of hand, particularly if they have before, it may need to be explicit and make it clear that fighting, drinking too much alcohol, using illegal drugs or making offensive and discriminatory remarks about other people won’t be tolerated. Either way, make sure that managers and senior leaders set the standard. If they are rolling around drunk or telling offensive jokes, staff may think they can follow suit. It’s also not a good idea to have an unlimited free bar either as excessive drinking and good behaviour rarely go hand in hand.
In terms of gifts, employers should try to be more imaginative than providing a bottle of wine. Not everyone drinks and they don’t want to alienate those members of staff who don’t.
Jo Moseley is senior associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell