Gerry Devine - Practice Manager Adviser

Christmas parties: Avoiding the HR hangover

 ‘Tis the season to be jolly!

The last of the Christmas parties are right around the corner, so it’s time to make sure you lay down the law... the employment law, that is. 

While you’re looking forward to re-acquainting yourself with the couch on the 25th and enjoying a sherry at noon, it’s important to make sure employees aren’t taking those ‘duvet days’ in the weeks leading up to the ‘big day’ due to a hangover or the embarrassment of a wine-fuelled argument with a colleague.

Work parties are great for bonding and boosting morale, and while you can’t control staff behaviour, you can make sure you safeguard the Practice - avoiding unnecessary sick days and employment tribunals.

Pre-party

Even if the party takes place outside of the work place, employment laws still apply. When an employee attends a function organised by either the employer or another colleague, the employer is still responsible for their actions.

Drunken behaviour is the root cause of many a tribunal claim, so make sure staff understand that inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable by issuing a statement with the details of the venue, timings, menu and dress code etc and a few rules.

Include the following:

  • Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. [The provision of free alcoholic drinks by the Company is not an excuse to drink excessively.]
  • You should not drink and drive. It is, above all, dangerous and illegal. If you will not be driving, please make arrangements in advance to get home, for example public transport or a licensed taxi.
  • Improper conduct or other unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated and is a serious disciplinary matter. This includes excessive drunkenness, the use of illegal drugs, unlawful or inappropriate discrimination or harassment, violence such as fighting or aggressive behaviour and serious verbal abuse or the use of other inappropriate language, whether this is towards a fellow employee, an invited guest or a member of the waiting or bar staff. [In this regard we would refer you to the provision of the Company’s policy on dealing with harassment complaints. Please be aware that such misconduct may amount to gross misconduct depending on the circumstances of the case, and possible summary dismissal.
  • Under health and safety legislation, you have a general duty to take reasonable care of your own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by your acts or omissions.

The after party

A hangover is not a valid excuse for a sick day, yet many HR professionals agree that December’s ‘over-indulgence’ is a big cause of absences.

While you don’t want staff working while they are not fit to, employees should also be urged to take annual leave if they know they might drink too much at a week-night party, or ensure that they don’t over-indulge.

It is probably a good idea to plan company parties for the weekend, but Christmas is a time filled with social events and staff might often find themselves sipping mulled cider at Christmas markets on a Tuesday or catching up with family and friends over wine on a Thursday.

Make sure staff are aware that ‘duvet days’ are not acceptable and could result in disciplinary action. You should also include the following statement along with your Christmas party announcement if you do choose to host a work party on a week-night:

“You are reminded that you are required to report for work the following day, unless you have arranged in advance to take this as annual leave. Any unauthorised absence on the day after the party will be treated as a disciplinary issue. Any sickness absence on this day will be required to be supported by a [doctors certificate/signed self-certification confirming the reason for absence and that the illness is not alcohol-related.] A hangover is an unacceptable reason for sickness and absence. “

So while there is no way of dictating what goes on at staff parties, just make sure employees are mindful of the fact that they still represent the practice and that inappropriate behaviour can result in disciplinary action.

For specific queries regarding employment issues contact advice@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk where you question will be treated in confidence and will normally be answered (by email) within 2 working days of submission.

Alternatively, visit the FPM policies and procedures library for more information on special leave.


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