Your Work’s Christmas Party Could Cost You Dearly: Here’s Why

December 1, 2023

Your Work’s Christmas Party Could Cost You Dearly: Here’s Why


Would your company policy be robust enough to stand up legally when it comes to the staff Christmas party? As the festive party season approaches, whilst many workplaces look forward to fun and celebrations - courtesy of the company - these celebrations also require careful management and adherence to conduct standards. 


This sounds like a killjoy, but your company could be liable for damages. 

A Conduct & Standards Policy is crucial for organisations during these events.


How Can Someone Getting Drunk Be the Company's Fault?


Alcohol consumption and a relaxed atmosphere can lead to behaviour that might not occur in a typical work setting - ranging from aggression to serious claims of bullying, sexual discrimination, and harassment. So, how is it the responsibility of your company to ensure that people behave appropriately?


This is a question that comes up often.  No one made the employee get drunk; they were the ones who got drunk & became aggressive.  But in the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd, it was proven that the company was liable vicariously (through serving on behalf of someone else, in this instance – the company) for the employee, because of their poor conduct at a Christmas party, that resulted in an assault. All drinks and taxis had been paid for by the organisation. Worryingly, this shows that companies are accountable for the behaviour of their employees and the actions committed by them in the course of their employment - such as at Christmas and other social gatherings, especially if you can’t prove that reasonable steps were taken in the first place.


Steps such as ensuring that your company policies are in place. 


Does Your Employee Handbook Cover You?


Workplace parties, especially around Christmas, offer a chance for organisations to reward and engage with their workforce. However, these events also present unique challenges. These can be far-reaching, with not just monetary damages, but also risking your company's reputation and lead to significant legal issues for your company, if not managed safely and appropriately. 


Policies are designed to protect you, enable clear actions around conduct and behaviour standards, and prevent an employee from taking legal action against your business.


You also have a legal duty to protect the health & safety of your workforce. 



I’m covered by Employment Law 


Whilst you can refer to employment law, taking reactive action without the solid structure of company rules, procedures and policies, means you risk taking incorrect, inconsistent and inappropriate action. 



For example, if your employee were to claim they were being harassed, and were able to prove the organisation had not taken action to prevent the harassment, they may be able to pursue legal action. This extends to work-related social gatherings.


Having a consistent Code of Conduct & Behaviour that’s expected throughout any event, including workplace Christmas parties, needs to be clear. Should any incidents arise, they should be addressed with the same thorough investigatory and disciplinary measures as would be applied during regular working hours.


An organisation must have a solid policy framework addressing bullying, harassment, and disciplinary actions to clearly outline the procedures for handling any allegations.


Additionally, implementing a specific policy for conduct at work-related social events is highly beneficial. To reinforce the organisation's commitment to maintaining a respectful and safe environment, it's recommended to proactively communicate these policies to all employees before the event, typically through a memo or letter. This proactive approach ensures employees are well-informed about the expected conduct, significantly reducing the likelihood of inappropriate behaviour.


Maintaining Standards and Managing Incidents

  • How do you handle personal mobile phone usage and persistent lateness?
  • What do you do when an employee is affected by drugs or alcohol?
  • What are your reporting requirements around sickness?

Perpetual lateness can impact other team members when they have to pick up the slack.


Chronic poor phone hygiene can impact productivity and serve as a distraction.


Having an employee who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol will impact team productivity.


Sickness can affect workload, meaning increased pressures to meet deadlines.


Having appropriate and robust policies in place will help you to manage incidents that arise around behaviour, which isn’t conducive or appropriate to the workplace.


Organisations need to treat Christmas parties as an extension of the working environment. A strong policy on bullying, harassment, and disciplinary procedures should be communicated to all staff members before the event.


A specific policy for behaviour at work-related social events can also be beneficial.


What Should Be Included in Your Employee Handbook?


An Employee Handbook is essential in setting out the benchmarks of standards and behaviour. Without this, a business does not have the framework and structure to lay employment ground rules, and effect consequences in the event of non-compliance. It outlines mandatory employment laws and clearly states unacceptable behaviours.


Policies that relate to mandatory employment law are

  • Absence (Sickness & Holiday)
  • Alcohol & Drugs
  • Disciplinary & Grievance Procedures
  • Training


The handbook should address specific issues - covering various scenarios - including personal mobile phone usage, lateness, family emergencies, and reporting sickness. It should also set out standards for social media use, internet access, and handling issues related to alcohol, drugs, health, and safety.


Linking Your Policies to Employment Law


Policies related to mandatory employment law should include absence management, alcohol and drug policies, and disciplinary and grievance procedures. Each business is uniquely different, which is why it’s essential to have the right kind of policies in place for your company, instead of a generic, one-size-fits-all.


Without these policies in place, any reactive actions made, without the support of structured company rules and policies, can lead to inconsistent and inappropriate decisions that can have far-reaching consequences.


When planning for festive celebrations, organisations should remember that workplace rules on conduct and discipline extend to social gatherings.  You should ensure that your company is equipped with comprehensive policies that not only protect them but also provide clear guidelines for employees.


As you celebrate, let's not forget the importance of maintaining professional standards and ensuring a safe, enjoyable environment for everyone.


If you require help with curating a policy that reflects your ethos whilst ensuring that both you and your workforce are protected, this is something that Thrive HR UK can help with.


Click HERE for your free discovery call.

Sarah Hooper