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Christmas Parties: How it Can All Go Wrong


The annual work Christmas party is a great opportunity for staff to relax and enjoy themselves after a year of hard work. However, the mix of alcohol and high spirits can easily become a problem for employers if the behaviour of their employees gets out of hand.

A recent survey showed that 65% of employees admit they drink too much at the work Christmas party, with the majority saying that this had a negative impact on their behaviour.

Employers need to remember that they may be held responsible for the behaviour of their employees at such events – both from a PR point of view and in legal terms. Unfortunately, holding a party away from the office does not necessarily absolve the employer of this liability.

In the recent case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited, for example, an employer was ordered to pay compensation to an employee who suffered brain damage after he was punched by the Managing Director (who was drunk) at a work Christmas “after-party” in a hotel. Even though the incident did not happen at the party itself, the employer was held to be liable for the Managing Director’s actions.

Tips for employers on managing the behaviour of employees at work Christmas parties:

Before the party:

Email your employees to remind them that misbehaving and bringing your organisation into disrepute won’t be tolerated, and they can still be disciplined for their actions even if they take place outside of the workplace.

During the party:

Set a good example for your employees and be on your best behaviour; this avoids sending mixed messages on how to behave.

Ensure the amount of alcohol you provide is reasonable; too much tipple can lead to uncontrollable behaviour, such as verbal or physical fighting. If you are keen that your employees still feel valued, you could consider giving out Christmas bonuses or extra time off during the holiday period instead of a free bar at the party.

After the party:

If things do go wrong and someone misbehaves, act swiftly and firmly. If you’ve already warned staff that bad behaviour may result in disciplinary action, you should be prepared to follow this up to make sure the message gets through for next year’s party.

You should also be consistent – if there are a few culprits, treat them fairly and similarly to each other to avoid claims of bias.