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Avoiding the Office Christmas Party Hangover

Updated: Mar 28


A picture of five men and women enjoying their office christmas party.

So the staff Christmas party is looming and you want to make sure your people have a good time but also that things don't get out of hand. The last thing you need is waking up the next day with a pounding headache and a list of problems caused by too much festive cheer the night before.


Did you know, that if staff behave in an inappropriate, aggressive or dangerous manner whilst at a works Christmas party, the employer may be responsible for their actions. They may also be liable for misconduct that takes place within ‘after party drinks’.


As the person responsible for HR in your company, it's down to you to put policies in place to avoid unwanted behaviour, limit liability and ensure everyone still has fun. After all, the office Christmas party should be a chance for people to relax and bond over a glass of mulled wine, not end in a fog of drunken embarrassment and regret.



Set Clear Expectations for Appropriate Behaviour


Christmas parties are a great opportunity to reward staff and allow them to let their hair down and have fun with their colleagues. We want people to enjoy the social occasion and have fun. However, an informal relaxed atmosphere, mixed with alcohol, can often create situations that do not occur in the usual working environment.


Possible types of inappropriate behaviour at Christmas parties may include:


  • discrimination

  • harassment, including sexual harassment

  • bullying

  • violence and physical assaults

  • drunken behaviour


Legally, employers have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees.

A Christmas party is an official company organised event, which is an extension of the working environment. Therefore, employers can be liable for actions committed by employees during their employment if they cannot demonstrate they took ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent it.


As an employer, it’s crucial to set clear expectations for appropriate behaviour at company Christmas parties to avoid potential issues.



How to manage behaviour at a Christmas party


Staff should be made aware the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace. Have a policy or code of conduct for work related events that outlines:



  • Types of events

  • Expected standards of behaviour

  • Additional company policies that still apply during such events e.g:

  • Harassment and Bullying

  • Code of Conduct

  • Inappropriate Behaviour


Make a Code of Conduct


Develop a simple policy or code of conduct for the event, highlighting behavioural dos and don’ts. Communicate this to staff beforehand and ask them to acknowledge and agree to it.

This could include:


  • Do have fun but don’t get drunk. Limit alcohol intake and provide non-alcoholic options.

  • Do be friendly but don’t act inappropriately. Any unwanted physical contact, comments, or jokes are unacceptable.

  • Do take the next day off if needed but don’t call in sick the next day. Unapproved leave following the party may be treated as unauthorised absence.


Have Managers Monitor Staff


Ask managers to monitor their teams during the event to ensure everyone remains professional. Stop any inappropriate behaviour immediately and take the necessary action. Managers should also not get intoxicated themselves.


Arrange Transport Options


Organise transport to and from the venue for staff who have been drinking to avoid drink driving. You could provide taxis, a minibus shuttle service or encourage carpooling between colleagues.


By putting the right policies and precautions in place, businesses can allow their staff to have an enjoyable social event while avoiding potential issues around misconduct, health and safety risks, and reputational damage. After all, ‘tis the season to be responsible! Staff will appreciate the duty of care shown by their employer.



Review Your Anti-Harassment and Anti-Discrimination Policies


As an employer, it's crucial to review your anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies before any company events, especially the annual Christmas party.


Your policies are there to protect both your business and your employees. They set clear expectations for appropriate behaviour and consequences if those aren’t met.


Without these safeguards in place, your company could face legal trouble if inappropriate conduct occurs at a company events. Lawsuits, fines, and damage to your reputation are risks no one wants to take.


Bullying, harassment, discrimination, and violence have no place in your workplace or at company events. Your policies should strictly prohibit this kind of behaviour and detail the disciplinary action that will be taken if someone breaks these rules.


Make sure all employees have read and understand these policies. Send reminders before the Christmas party and consider asking people to re-sign them to keep them fresh in everyone’s minds.


You should also designate managers to monitor the event closely. They can intervene quickly if there are any signs of inappropriate behaviour or situations getting out of hand before real damage is done.


By taking a proactive stance, you’ll give your employees the gift of a safe, welcoming and inclusive work environment this holiday season. And you’ll head into the new year knowing your company and your team are protected.



Arrange Safe Transportation Home


To avoid liability issues, arrange transportation options for employees who have been drinking at the office Christmas party. As the host, your company has a duty of care to ensure all guests make it home safely.


Offer taxi vouchers, car-sharing or a shuttle service to transport guests who have overindulged. Promote these options before the event and have details readily available during the party. You may also want to directly approach individuals who appear intoxicated and personally ensure they have a way to get home.


  • Provide taxi vouchers or car-sharing to all employees attending the party so they can plan their transportation in advance. This also gives guests peace of mind so they can enjoy themselves without worrying how they will get home.

  • Organise a shuttle service to drop off guests within a certain radius of the venue. Have employees schedule a pickup time in advance and dispatch drivers to transport people home at the end of the night.

  • Assign managers or HR staff to discreetly monitor attendees and check in on those who appear intoxicated. Directly ask how they plan to get home and call them a taxi or carshare on the company’s account if needed.

  • Consider allowing ‘plus ones’ to attend and ask that one guest stays sober to drive the other home. However, their attendance still makes the company liable, so taxi and carshare options are the safest approach.

These proactive policies demonstrate your company’s duty of care and mitigate risks like drink driving, accidents, altercations or health issues that could arise if intoxicated guests try to make their own way home. A safe transportation policy gives employees the freedom to relax and enjoy the festivities, knowing they have a guaranteed safe trip home at the end of the night.



Limit or Prohibit Alcohol Consumption


One of the most important HR policies to have in place for office Christmas parties is limiting or prohibiting alcohol consumption. As much as staff may want an open bar, unlimited drinks can lead to poor decision making, inappropriate behaviour, and legal issues for the company.


Set a maximum number of drink tickets per person to control consumption. You can also choose to limit the types of alcohol served to just wine and beer, avoiding hard liquor. And don’t forget under 18’s are not allowed to buy or drink alchol and other staff shouldn’t buy it for them.


Make food readily available to slow alcohol absorption. Savoury and sweet nibbles give partygoers something to do with their hands and mouths other than just drinking. Staying well fed and hydrated is key to avoiding or lessening the severity of hangovers and poor choices.


Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the end of the event. This gives staff time to sober up before heading home and ensures no one feels pressured into drinking right up until the end.


Designate reception and security staff to monitor for intoxicated behaviour and step in if needed. Their role is to politely cut off anyone who has had too much to drink and ensure they leave the event safely, whether by taxi, carshare or with a sober friend or colleague.


Remind staff of your company’s policies around appropriate conduct and behaviour before the Christmas party. Be very clear that normal disciplinary action may follow for violations of these policies, even at a work social event. Your usual standards of professionalism apply, and staff represent your company brand at all times.


By prioritising health, safety and professionalism over an unrestricted open bar, businesses can host enjoyable staff Christmas parties without worrying about the potential for liability issues or PR nightmares the next day. The holidays are a time for good cheer, not career-ending regret.



Follow Up on Any Incidents or Complaints


As an HR professional, following up on any incidents or complaints after the Christmas party is crucial. Failure to do so properly can leave your company liable for the actions of employees during the event.


Investigate Reports Promptly


If any staff report inappropriate behaviour by colleagues at the party, whether towards them or others, launch a formal investigation immediately. Speak to all involved and any witnesses to determine exactly what occurred. Take statements and keep thorough records of the process. Apply your company’s disciplinary policies as needed based on the findings.


Communicate to those staff involved


If an incident occurred and was witnessed by those attending, communicate to all staff that the incident was addressed under normal company rules / policies. This can often be a useful deterrent for inappropriate behaviour at future work events and parties.


Review Policies Annually


Review your policies around harassment, bullying, violence, and substance abuse at work at least once a year to ensure they are robust, clear and compliant with the latest legislation. Circulate them to all staff, especially before the Christmas party. This helps to prevent issues in the first place and gives you clear procedures to follow if anything does arise.


Provide Extra Training


Some additional training for managers on spotting inappropriate behaviour and how to intervene may be worthwhile before the Christmas party. They can then keep a closer eye out for any potential problems on the night and step in quickly if needed. Consider extra security staff for larger events too.


Make Reporting Easy


Have clear, well-communicated processes for staff to report any concerns after the event. This could be an anonymous hotline, online form or a designated HR contact. Make it easy and encourage staff to come forward if they witness or experience anything inappropriate. Stay vigilant for any signs of bullying or harassment in the weeks following the party as well.


Taking a proactive approach and following robust procedures after the Christmas party is key to avoiding issues that could damage work culture, reputation or even lead to legal consequences. Though staff are there to enjoy themselves, as an employer you must continue to prioritise their wellbeing, safety and workplace rights. Staying vigilant and acting quickly on any reports will help get the new year off to a good start.



Case Law – the after party


Organisations can also be liable for misconduct that takes place within ‘after party drinks’. Although these are technically not officially organised by the company, liability can still arise if it can be established that the employee’s conduct was sufficiently connected to their position.


An example of this was seen in the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited, where a manager had punched one of his employees in the face after they, along with some colleagues, had gone for further drinks at a local hotel when the Christmas party concluded.


The Court of Appeal found that the company was liable for the actions of the manager as, although this occurred in an after party, all drinks and taxis had been paid for by the company and the manager was acting within his management capacity.



Avoid the Christmas Party Hangover


So there you have it, the key things you need to put in place to avoid that office Christmas party hangover. By communicating clear policies about appropriate behaviour, ensuring staff understand their responsibilities, limiting the booze and planning some fun non-alcoholic activities, you'll be giving yourself the gift of a hassle-free festive season. Your staff will have a great time and you'll avoid waking up to any unwanted surprises.


If you have a staff Christmas party coming up and you're worried about putting the right policies in place, then jump on a call with me and lets make a plan!


For HR resources that will help support your people, whilst protecting the organisation, take a look at our resource page: https://www.thehrhero.co.uk/resources


 


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