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How to make sure your office Christmas party doesn't turn into an HR nightmare

Here are some tips on preventing staff problems in the festive season – before they occur.

IT’S CHRISTMAS PARTY season as workplaces across the country thank employees for their hard work over the year.

A party can be a great team-building opportunity, but it is important to remember that an employer can be liable for the conduct of its employees at the party, even when it takes place somewhere other than in the workplace.

Employers should ensure that employees understand the standard of conduct expected of them, and that they are expected to observe the provisions of Dignity at Work, anti-bullying and harassment policies at work-related events.

The actions of employees at a Christmas party may potentially damage working relationships, reflect negatively on the organisation and lead to complaints or disciplinary actions.

Organisations have a duty of care to all employees and should take reasonable steps to ensure that inappropriate conduct at these events does not arise. To ignore an incident due to the fact that it occurred at the Christmas party may leave the organisation liable.

Here are some reasonable steps you can take to prevent an incident occurring:

Prior to holding the Christmas party, or any work-related event, it should be made clear to employees that should there be an incident or a subsequent allegation that these will be dealt with in exactly the same manner as if same had occurred during working hours.

Policies which should be brought to employee’s attention prior to the event should be:

  • Dignity at Work – To cover anti-bullying, harassment and sexual harassment;
  • Email and social media – To cover employees tweeting, using Snapchat or sending pictures of colleague via another medium;
  • Attendance at work – To cover employees who contemplate not attending for work the day after the Christmas party;
  • Grievance and disciplinary – If a case arises where there is misconduct, or an employee has a work-related grievance.

These are some considerations to keep in mind when planning a Christmas party:

Attendance - If the Christmas party is out of hours, employees should be made aware of the fact that they are not obliged to attend.

Food and drink - If, as is in the cases of a lot of Christmas parties and work-related events, there is alcohol to be served, any free alcoholic beverages should be limited.

Given this, employers also need to be sensitive to employees who don’t drink alcohol or who don’t eat certain foods, and should ensure there are non-alcoholic drinks available and alternative food options.

Inappropriate discussions - Christmas parties or work-related events are also not the appropriate location for discussions in relation to performance, promotion, salary or career prospects. Words of encouragement and good intentions can be misinterpreted and may cause future issues.

Travel facilities - Despite Christmas parties occurring mostly outside of the workplace, responsibility still lies with the employer for the protection and safety of their employees.

Therefore, employees should be provided with the details of public transport routes or taxi facilities in the area where the event is being held.

Absence management - Where the Christmas party falls on a day when employees will be required to attend work the following day, employers should communicate to staff not to be at work under the influence of alcohol so that they do not endanger their own or another person’s health and safety at work.

Depending on the organisation and the work they do, it may be preferable to host the Christmas party or social event at the weekend to ensure that employees do not need to attend work the day after the event.

Derek McKay is managing director of Adare Human Resource Management.

If you want to share your opinion, advice or story, email

Written by Derek McKay and posted on

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