For some businesses, the annual office Christmas party can become a breeding ground for embarrassing and poorly judged decisions, which, in the worst cases, can result in a person's demotion or them being fired.

What may seem like harmless fun can, after a few glasses of champagne, lead to angry confrontations and inappropriate behaviour towards co-workers. So what rules can employers follow to ensure their office Christmas party is a success this year?

1. Choose the venue and activities wisely

For employers to get the most out of their Christmas party, the celebration needs to be inclusive, meaning they should think carefully before deciding on the venue and catering options. Many organisations employ staff with different beliefs who may not want to consume alcohol or eat a particular food. With this considered, a growing number of employers are opting to forgo the usual ‘boozy’ Christmas party and instead replace this with a more inclusive, yet still suitably enjoyable team bonding activity. 

2. Warn staff about misconduct 

Perhaps the most significant concern when arranging a Christmas party is the risk of misconduct. Therefore it is wise to take steps to guard against inappropriate behaviour. Many employers opt to send emails around ahead of the event, insisting individuals remain professional at all times and confirming that they will deal with any misconduct in line with the company’s disciplinary policy. 

3. Be prepared to respond to complaints 

Despite employers’ best intentions, there may still be instances where staff misbehave at the Christmas party. In these instances, employers must respond to any grievances, especially those that relate to claims of harassment. After all, employers will be vicariously liable for acts carried out by their staff both during the Christmas party, and even after it has finished

4. Consider ways to manage social media activity

Many individuals like to document their every move on social media for their friends and families to see. If left unchecked social media activity can create an unwelcome situation for employers during the Christmas party. Employers with a social media policy that limits staff from disclosing information about work online may be able to rely on this. Meanwhile, employees should be encouraged to ‘think twice’ before posting any pictures or videos of the night’s celebrations.

5. Be alert to workplace gossip

The days immediately following the Christmas party can be affected by harmful workplace gossip, as staff may be inclined to discuss and spread rumours about individual behaviour. Although office gossip can be difficult to control, employers should encourage line managers to monitor behaviour as usual and remind staff that conversations during working time must remain appropriate.

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6. Stick to your usual absence procedure

There is often the fear amongst employers that staff may call in sick the morning after the Christmas party. While it would be inappropriate to jump to conclusions when faced with this situation, being able to rely on a well-constructed absence reporting procedure should help in managing this. Return to work interviews should help employers gather any information. Employers should only consider any disciplinary action if there is sufficient evidence that the employee has fabricated the illness. 

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula

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