Ho ho ho… businesses urged to have fun within reason this Christmas

East Durham businesses are being warned to have fun this Christmas – but to be prepared for the problems which can come from an overly indulgent office party or night.

HR expert Alison Schreiber of the HR Dept Durham works with a number of companies in the area to advise them of any HR related issues.

That includes Christmas parties.

Alison said: “Christmas parties are a great way to celebrate the year and thank employees for all their hard work. However, they are often marred by misconduct, from fighting to sexual harassment, with excessive drinking part of the problem.

“Such social events are usually considered by the courts to be an extension of the workplace, and employers may be found liable in law for the misconduct of employees. It’s vital that Durham employers can show they took reasonable measures to prevent such acts.”

Alison is also offering advice to businesses on the benefit of enhancing your disciplinary policy with an alcohol policy and advising all staff on behavioural standards before the Christmas party season.

She added: “Most companies will have a disciplinary and grievance policy. But check yours to see if it could be reinforced with some specific wording on excessive alcohol consumption, including social events at work. Circulating the policies, along with a statement on misconduct in the lead up to the party, sends a strong message to the partygoers.

“Because a party organised by an employer is normally considered an extension of the workplace, employers have a duty of care to staff present. Equally, employees are subject to workplace policies.”

Alcohol is often an aggravating factor. But how can you prepare for other types of misconduct? The Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR), an equality body, recently wrote to leading employers demanding evidence of measures and safeguards to prevent sexual harassment. Having evidence in the form of a statement ahead of the Christmas party season alongside a clear reporting framework is a sensible step.

Alison added: “In what is known as vicarious liability, employers can find themselves liable for acts of employee misconduct if they have not taken reasonable measures to keep staff safe. Not only do robust policies and a strong statement on cultural expectations help prevent misconduct. But they’ll contribute towards demonstrating that duty of care towards staff.”

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