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’Tis the season, and plans or discussions of Office Christmas Parties are likely in full swing! But you don’t want your Office Christmas Party to cause you workplace headaches. To that end, our employment law specialists provide some tips for employers on how have a trouble-free Office Christmas Party. By being clear about what is expected of employees and making sure the venue of your party is safe, you should be on your way to having a relaxing and enjoyable festive celebration!
A more social setting, and the consumption of alcohol, can cloud employees’ judgements of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. However, the Christmas party is a work-related event and employees should treat it as such. While there still should be room to have a good time, employees should be reminded of their responsibilities and be forewarned that any acts of misconduct will be dealt with under the terms of the organisation’s disciplinary policy. You should also ensure that employees of non-Christian faiths do not feel discriminated against or are forced to participate in the Christmas party against their wishes.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that while this is a work occasion, it may not be the best idea to discuss career matters or remuneration issues with employees during the company party - encouraging words could be taken the wrong way. Although any discussions that do take place should be interpreted as non-commital and not binding, you don't want to put yourself in a difficult position as a result of an informal discussion.
While you want your Christmas party to be fun, you may not want the world to know just how much fun. Unauthorised photos or video footage making their way across the internet can be very damaging to your company image, and offending employees should be dealt with in accordance with your workplace disciplinary policy. Make sure employees are clear on your social media policy and what is appropriate to post online.
If you do not currently have a social media policy in place for your business, this could be the perfect opportunity to get one drawn up. A social media policy will make it clear to employees what the consequences of any breaches of the policy will be, including breaches of data policy, bullying and harassment and damage to the reputation of your business.
Alcohol policy should be outlined in any employee handbook and you should draw your employees’ attention to it before the party. You must also ensure that alternatives to alcoholic beverages are made available, as some employees may not drink alcohol for personal, health or religious reasons. If alcohol is being served at the event, you should warn employees of this in advance, so they can make suitable arrangements for getting home. It may also be useful to include local taxi numbers and details of local accommodation in an email detailing the party plans.
It is normally easier to hold your Christmas party at a restaurant, bar or hotel. These types of places are designed with fun in mind and have suitable facilities for party hosting. However, if you’re holding your party in the workplace, there are additional duties you need to be aware of. It is your responsibility to ensure that if furniture is moved in the workplace to facilitate the party, that this does not present a hazard. This includes making sure all fire exits and fire safety equipment are not blocked and also that no decorations that may hinder an escape are hung. Moreover, in order to prevent any liability, make sure there are no trip hazards such as cables, wires or decorations where employees and their visitors are likely to walk. On this point, you should also make sure that any public walkways and access to the office are free of ice and snow. This may mean making special arrangements to have the area gritted prior to the party. If you fail to observe you health and safety obligations, you may find yourself liable for compensation. As an employer, you are responsible for health and safety in the workplace. This applies even outside working hours. If you are planning a party it may be useful to consult with the health and safety officer of the workplace and also any first aiders - they may be able to spot issues you might have overlooked.
It is also important that you make your company policy on absence clear to employees. It may be the case that employees are considering taking a ‘sick day’ following the office party, which could cause problems for your business. Remind them that doing so might attract disciplinary action. If it’s appropriate, perhaps recommend that anyone who feels they will be unable to work the next day request annual leave.
At Sherwin O’Riordan, we specialise in numerous employment matters. If you require legal advice regarding disciplinary procedures, workplace policies, health & safety compliance, employment contracts, unfair dismissals, settlement agreements or any other employment law matter, please call +35316632000 or contact us via our online contact form to speak to one of our employment law specialists.
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