The festive season is fast approaching, which means employees across the country will soon be letting their hair down at the staff Christmas party. This is often the one time of year when employees are brought together in a social environment, usually with large amounts of alcohol thrown into the mix. This year in particular with all the media attention on what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour between work colleagues, employers need to plan what to do – and not do – to ensure these Christmas celebrations remain festive fun.

1. Remember that Christmas parties are an extension of the workplace

Aside from details such as dress code, time and venue, employers should provide employees with a gentle, good humoured reminder that the Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and that certain standards are expected of them. This could include the dangers of excess alcohol consumption, inappropriate use of social media during and after the event and behaviours that could be viewed as unwanted attention, harassment or misconduct.

2. Consider whether a free bar is a good idea

A free bar will undoubtedly be a morale booster for staff, but employers need to be aware of the dangers of providing an unlimited free bar. In Williams and others v Whitbread Beer Co, three employees at a seminar who were dismissed because they ended up drunk, abusive and violent on the free bar, were found to have been unfairly dismissed. The unlimited free bar provided by the employer was an important factor in determining whether or not the dismissal was fair. Employers could consider having designated managers to keep an eye out for anyone drinking too much, who can then nip any problems in the bud; having limited types of alcohol as free i.e. no spirits or cocktails; or limiting the duration of the free bar to minimise their liability.

3. Be aware of religious sensitivities

It is unlikely that holding a Christmas party would in itself be seen as religious discrimination because generally these parties are more about staff getting together socially, than celebrating religion. However, employers should consider having a policy on religious observance during working hours and support employees whose religious festivals fall at different times of the year.

4. Dealing with the aftermath

What if an employee comes to work late or not at all the day after the Christmas party? An employer can make deductions from employees’ pay as long as the right to make deductions from wages for unauthorised absence is provided for in the employment contract. If disciplinary action is to be taken for lateness or non-attendance after the Christmas party, employers should ensure that staff are informed in advance that this is a possibility and subsequently follow its attendance management or disciplinary policy and procedures.

5. Be prepared to take formal action if necessary

Any cases of misconduct which are likely to impact on the working environment post party, such as fighting, abusive behaviour and allegations of sexual harassment, should be dealt with in accordance with the company’s disciplinary procedure. Employers not only have a duty of care towards staff, but the Equality Act 2010 makes employers liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees in the course of employment, unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts.

For advice prior to or post your Christmas party, please contact Anita Wynne on 01438 747 747 or email