The office Christmas party: Everything you need to know

Office Christmas party

With widespread vaccination successful and mild winter restrictions (in comparison to last year), the 2021 Christmas party (for most employers) is more likely to resemble celebrations ‘PC-19’ (Pre-Covid-19).

While the Christmas party is the perfect opportunity to unwind with colleagues after a busy year, employers must remember to conduct events properly and keep celebrations under control.

Lucy Melville, Solicitor in the Employment team at Blacks Solicitors, examines some key points to remember, ahead of this year’s Christmas party. Employers should stay on top of these areas to avoid liability or reputation damage, while still providing an enjoyable evening for colleagues and guests.

The impact of Covid-19

To be cautious, employers should consider putting lateral flow tests in place, particularly with the new Omicron variant becoming more widespread. Ensuring colleagues have a negative lateral flow test before entering a busy event like a Christmas party will ensure health and safety risks are reduced, and all employees, including those who are clinically vulnerable, will be able to attend. Care should be taken to store any retained personal data with appropriate security.

As Covid-19 remains a threat, it may be advisable to establish an internal test and trace system. That way, should anyone test positive for Covid-19, appropriate responsible action can be taken, also minimizing disruption. Take care, however,  as this could lead to additional data protection issues.

It is advisable to comply with any Government recommendations related to reducing the transmission of Covid-19. Aside from reducing transmission of the virus overall, this will avoid disruption to a business by preventing illness and any related  sick leave. 

Implementing social distancing at the Christmas party and asking employees to wear masks are simple, low cost ways of delivering effective Covid-19 protection. As vaccinations are not legally required for most professions, not all employers can rely on them. Be cautious if considering a policy of mandatory vaccination, even for the event, as the medical and philosophical grounds used to justify avoiding the Covid-19 vaccine could lead to claims of discrimination.

The venue

Ensure that your chosen venue is accessible for all guests. Consider the needs of those staff with disabilities traveling to and navigating the venue. Arranging transport for all attendees may be wise to ensure safe, reliable access for all guests.

Be aware that pandemic restrictions move quickly and often without much warning. When securing a contract with a venue for your event, closely examine the force majeure clause to minimise financial loss should new pandemic restrictions force the venue to close its doors. Since the pandemic began, venues of all kinds have been forced to shut for long periods, with some clients bearing a financial loss due to contractual obligations.

Health and safety is another important consideration in addition to Covid-19 measures. An employer may be held responsible for the safety of employees at a party, and it is advisable to work with the venue to undertake a risk assessment.

Behavior and etiquette 

The office Christmas Party is the perfect time for staff to relax, and with hybrid working now commonplace, opportunities for the whole team to be together are limited.

However, care should be taken to ensure that behavior remains professional and does not get out of hand. Be clear to attendees before the event that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated, and deal with any breaches with appropriate disciplinary action.

Depending on when the event takes place and unless confirmed otherwise, it’s a good idea for employers to advise staff  to begin work at  their normal hours the following day. Many colleagues are bound to have a sore head the next day, but any discrepancies attributed to the Christmas party should be handled with appropriate disciplinary action. To avoid this altogether, it may be best to hold  parties on a Friday or before Christmas leave.

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