As 2015 draws to a close and festive excitement starts to grow in the workplace, it is easy for employers to get caught up in the office festivities and leave themselves exposed.

Whilst it is important to enjoy the festivities this Christmas, employers should bear in mind the possible consequences of over indulging. A recent survey conducted by Human Resource Management found that employers as a whole are climbing back up the chimney when it comes to the annual office party. Out of 385 HR professionals taking the survey, 30% claimed that their employers do not have a Christmas party. This is almost double the 17% figure in 2012.

So… why are employers saying “Bah Humbug” to the Christmas season? Here a few Christmas problems that employers may not want to find in their stocking!

Works Christmas Do… or don’t?

It’s time to relax and enjoy the fruits of the year’s labour. It’s the annual Christmas party, all staff are invited and it’s time to let your hair down. Although the Christmas party is a great opportunity for employers to thank their employees for their continued commitment and hard work throughout the year, there can be plenty of problems hiding underneath the Christmas tree. In fact, a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development revealed that 1 in 10 workers know of someone from their organisation who has either been disciplined or sacked for inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party!

There’s nothing wrong with having a Christmas tipple but excess can cause that tipple to topple over into problems. Employees should be reminded in advance that the Christmas party is an extension of their normal working environment and any misconduct will be dealt with as if it had occurred during normal working hours - including any unauthorised absence the next day!

Alcohol consumption should be monitored and if you decide not to put on a free bar – you aren’t a Scrooge. Most problems at Christmas parties stem from excessive drink and can lead to grievances or employment tribunal claims relating to harassment, discrimination, threatening behaviour and physical violence. An employer can be vicariously liable for acts of their employees carried in the course of employment. 

It is vital that employees are made aware of equal opportunities policies and that bad behaviour at the Christmas party could lead to more than ending up on Santa’s naughty list! Secret Santa should also be reminded that a blind eye won’t be turned to their inappropriate gifts….

If senior management are attending the Christmas party, it is best to avoid discussions relating to salary, promotion or future prospects with employees. Even a slurred promise of a pay rise could lead to the employer putting its money where the senior manager’s mouth was! These promises could be contractually binding even if it was the free bar talking.

Not everyone in your organisation may celebrate Christmas for either personal or religious reasons. Christmas parties shouldn’t be compulsory; however, if it is a party intended for all staff, don’t forget to invite those who are currently absent due to long term sickness or statutory leave.

Weather Warning: There could be trouble ahead

Whilst controlling the Christmas party may be within your power, the weather isn’t. Unlike other countries, the UK seems ill-equipped to deal with the odd flurry of snow, so when snow is falling all around us it can cause serious headaches for employers.

It is important to have a clear policy in place that deals with lateness and absence caused by weather. It should set out what you expect from your employees in the event of adverse weather, remembering that if an employee cannot get to work because of bad weather, they are not automatically entitled to receive their pay.

Jack Frost Nipping at your Nose

The winter months bring with them a rise in absence, with December being the month most likely for people to pull a ‘sickie’, resulting in a surge of absence and the problem of staff shortages. As well as the tactical sickie and ‘duvet days’, the winter months bring with them a rise in the common cold and flu virus. Employers should take the opportunity to check and update their sickness absence policies.

Hopefully, your business will not be hit by any of these issues year. However you celebrate Christmas, we hope that it is filled with fun and laughter and would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all the team at Baines Wilson LLP.

If you do have any queries arising from this article please do not hesitate to contact Joanne Holborn, Tom Scaife or Caroline Rayner on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.