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Keeping control of party time

Nov 05, 2019
The summer months have come to an end, and soon the world will turn its attention to the end of year celebrations, as businesses begin organising their festive parties. Here, Tina Chandler from law firm Wright Hassell offers some sober advice to keep the staff party enjoyable for everyone.

Keeping control of party time

The opportunity to let your hair down and enjoy casual drinks with the rest of your colleagues comes as an exciting prospect, as another busy and successful year draws to a close. However, anticipation can quickly turn into overexcitement, and whilst no-one wants to play the Grinch, it is worth reminding colleagues that the staff party is essentially an extension of the workplace and the same rules and expectations apply.

The potential problems

Although the party may take place outside of the workplace and normal office hours, there remains the risk that an employer will be liable for the actions of its staff. Unfortunately, consuming high volumes of alcohol can be the catalyst for serious legal issues, with incidents of discrimination or harassment not unheard of.

The availability of alcohol and the relaxed social environment can soon see festivities spill over, and sexual harassment is usually the most common problem at one of these events. Accusations of discrimination on the grounds of age, race or sexual orientation can also occur – I’m sure we can all picture the type of unsavoury scenario described.

Protect your organisation

After a few too many drinks, emotions can become heightened and this can create all sorts of issues when out with work colleagues. If there are any existing workplace tensions then these can be strained further as inebriated individuals decide to raise the issue with other members of staff, which can quickly escalate into a verbal or physical confrontation.

This type of unacceptable behaviour could lead to claims for potentially unlimited compensation, not to mention the significant amount of time and effort senior management must invest into the subsequent investigation and disciplinary process. If the back to work blues weren’t already bad enough in January, these anxieties can be enhanced when employment lawyers are called to deal with an incident from the staff party. 

Tina Chandler, Wright Hassall

There are several steps that organisations should follow to avoid becoming that client:

  • When employees can bring partners, be sure not to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and don’t assume all partners will be of the opposite sex;
  • Don’t leave anybody out – every member of staff should be invited to the party, regardless of whether they are ill or on leave, as not doing so could result in claims of discrimination;
  • Ensure that you have an equal opportunities/anti-harassment policy in place;
  • Consider limiting the bar tab. Providing limitless amounts of alcohol to employees without monitoring who is drinking what is not only irresponsible, it can also increase the likelihood of a serious issue occurring;
  • Consider appointing a senior, responsible employee to stay sober, monitor behaviour and step in if necessary.

Exercise caution when organising

If you have been given the task of organising the staff party, then it’s important to exercise caution when booking the event. It may be tempting to go all out and impress colleagues by arranging a free bar in a venue that stays open until the early hours, however by doing this you are encouraging staff to drink excessively. Not only does it increase the likelihood of unacceptable behaviour occurring, but it could present its own health and safety challenges, as intoxicated staff become too drunk to take care of themselves.

Remember, an organisation has a responsibility to look after the wellbeing of its staff, not to mention its own reputation, so providing guests with limitless alcohol wouldn’t be a smart move.

Avoid the post-party dread

A lot of the major legal issues faced after a work party can be easily avoided - the vast majority stem from bad choices made by an organisation and its employees. In some serious cases, these drunken actions can result in a claim being brought against the company or person involved, so it’s important to remind people of their responsibilities beforehand.

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