How to have a safe, happy and fallout free office Christmas party

The countdown to Christmas is on, which means that many businesses will be preparing for the time-honoured tradition of the office Christmas party. While these gatherings can be a fantastic opportunity for showing appreciation, team bonding and spreading cheer after a busy year, a staggering 9 out of 10 businesses have reported having an employment issue as the result of a Christmas party. As an employer, it is important to take proactive steps to protect your business and prepare for any potential fallout.

With this in mind, here we share the reasons why it’s important to address this issue, as well as providing some practical strategies to ensure a happy and safe Christmas party.

Christmas party

Ba humbug! Why it’s important to protect your business

Why poorly planned Christmas parties could be costly for your company:

1. Avoid legal consequences: One of the most significant concerns for employers during Christmas parties is the potential for legal action. Inappropriate behaviour, such as harassment, discrimination, or alcohol-related incidents, can lead to lawsuits, damaging your company’s reputation in the process. Being unprepared can result in costly legal consequences and negative publicity.

2. Protect your company culture: A work Christmas party should reflect your company’s values and culture. Failing to address inappropriate behaviour can damage the trust and respect within your team. Employees should feel safe and respected at all company events, including Christmas parties, whether based in the office or somewhere else.

3. Maintain a positive work environment: The fallout from a poorly managed Christmas party can linger long after the event is over. Employees who experience discomfort or harassment may find it challenging to return to work with a positive attitude, leading to decreased morale and productivity and could potentially result in their resignation.

Christmas party

Tis the season to put practical strategies in place

Follow these measures to ensure your Christmas party is free from tears, tantrums and legal action.

1. Set clear expectations: Before the party, make sure your employees are fully aware of your expectations. Remind them of your company’s code of conduct and policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and alcohol consumption. This will serve as a proactive measure to prevent unwanted behaviour.

2. Monitor alcohol consumption: While you want your employees to enjoy themselves, excessive alcohol consumption is the main reason that things can quickly go wrong. Consider offering a limited drinks menu or drinks tokens to encourage responsible drinking. Ensure there are non-alcoholic beverage options available for everyone and staff have access to water.

3. Provide guidance on social media use: Being in a setting outside of work can bring out a more relaxed version of people, which might be different to the professional image you uphold of your business. Unsurprisingly, you might not want this to appear online. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a Social Media Policy in place, which advises employees not to place material online which could negatively affect the reputation of the employer, or which breaches its Bullying and Harassment Procedures. Employees should be reminded about the practice of social media in the run up to Christmas and whether this will then be any different for the company Christmas party.

4. Designate responsible staff: Appoint designated staff members to oversee the event and keep an eye on potential issues. They should be trained to handle any misconduct discreetly and professionally, ensuring that employees feel safe and respected.

5. Offer safe transportation: If your party involves alcohol and takes place off-site, consider arranging transportation options such as a bus or taxis to ensure that all employees have a safe way to get home.

6. Encourage inclusivity: Consider the diverse backgrounds and beliefs of your employees when planning your Christmas party. Ensure that the celebration is inclusive and respectful of everyone’s values and traditions.

7. Address misconduct promptly and professionally: If any incidents of inappropriate behaviour do occur, take them seriously and address them quickly. Investigate complaints, implement corrective actions, and ensure the affected employees receive support.

Williams and others -v- Whitbread Beer Company

 In Williams and others -v- Whitbread Beer Company, three claimants were work colleagues who attended a Christmas party, where drinks were available and paid for by their employer. After becoming intoxicated, the claimants were involved in an incident, which resulted in personal abuse and violent conduct of a superior.

As a result of their actions while drunk, the three claimants were dismissed from their positions within the company. The Court of Appeal approved the employment tribunal’s decision that the claimants were unfairly dismissed as the incidents were performed outside working hours and in a situation where a free bar had been provided by the employer. The decision to dismiss was therefore held to be outside the band of reasonable responses.

In this case, different decisions should have been made both before and after the incident in question:

  • Employees should have been reminded of the company’s code of conduct and policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and alcohol consumption.
  • Alcohol consumption should have been monitored or drinks tokens offered in place of an open bar.
  • Post-incident, a proper investigation and findings should have been followed to avoid unfair dismissal.

While office Christmas parties can be a wonderful way to celebrate the hard work of employees and boost team morale, it’s essential for employers to be prepared for any potential fallout. By setting clear expectations, monitoring alcohol consumption, and promoting inclusivity, you can create an environment where employees can enjoy the festivities in a safe and respectful manner.

If you have an issue around an office Christmas party and need advice, contact Julie at Consult HR by calling: 078 5808 9006 or email: