It’s December – the season of Christmas parties, festive drinks and general workplace merriment! Yet, whilst most of us are looking forward to the festivities, for employers, the Christmas period brings with it a minefield of HR challenges.
Employee antics at the office party can bring up issues of conduct, substance abuse and discrimination. All of which could lead to employees misbehaving and/or failing to turn up to work the next day. Considering that around 52% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work1, the Christmas party can also represent a daunting prospect for many female employees. After all, workplace parties and events are notorious for facilitating unwelcome sexual attention and alcohol fuelled comments.
So how can employer’s best prepare for the festive season?
The Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees in the course of employment, unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts. So even at a work party or event, it is your responsibility to make sure that you have a comprehensive policy in place that addresses employee health and safety.
As well as ensuring policies are in place, employers could also consider issuing a statement to employees in advance of a Christmas party or similar work-related event - reminding them of the dangers of excess alcohol consumption and unacceptable conduct that could be viewed as harassment.
It is vital for employers to take everyone’s needs into account when planning any celebrations. Events should be non-discriminatory and this can relate to anything from the theme of the party, to the timing of the event.
Dietary requirements and allergies must be taken into account when ordering food and drink. Also, remember to invite people who may work for the company but might be on leave, i.e. sick or maternity leave, to ensure that no one gets left out!
Don’t be afraid of reminding staff of your drug and alcohol policies over the festive period. Your policy should provide employees with the knowledge of the standards expected of them and the implications your organisation has in place for any substance and alcohol misuse.
Generally, if you drink a large (250ml) glass of wine, your body takes about three hours to break down the alcohol. If you drink one pint of beer, your body takes about two hours to break it down, whilst one pint of strong lager is equivalent to 3 units, so this will take longer. Even if you have a few drinks during a night out, it can take many hours for the alcohol to leave your body. The alcohol could still be in your blood the next day.
Approximately 85,000 people are convicted of drink driving related offences each and every year in England and Wales alone. The offence of driving a vehicle while exceeding the maximum legal alcohol limit carries a minimum mandatory driving disqualification of 12 months. For many businesses, where driving is fundamental to their operations, this could be incredibly detrimental.
To help prevent employees driving after a work event or Christmas party, consider organising a mini bus or taxi service to pick up and take people home. You could also make sure that there are plenty of non-alcoholic drinks freely available for those who decide to drive.
Make sure that staff are aware that over indulging over the Christmas period doesn’t excuse them from coming into work the next day. To avoid this altogether and if you operate a Monday to Friday business, consider holding any work events either on a Friday or Saturday night.
At the office party or any work event over the festive period, put two or three managers in charge of monitoring the activities of staff and their intake of alcohol. Also take all steps possible to protect employees from any third party harassment from strangers. Make sure that your staff are safe at all times, but most of all, make sure that they are having fun!
For more information on how to implement workplace policies to protect you and your business over the festive period, please get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 (0)7702864227.