Christmas dos and don'ts
Much of the headache for those with responsibility for HR at Christmas revolves around one event: the office Christmas party.
However, the festive season throws up other issues which should not be forgotten. Here are our ten 'dos and don'ts' both for a Christmas party, and generally for the month ahead:
- Do explain to staff any 'bad weather' policy or rules (which should not be contractual) regarding arrangements for attending work and any consequent impact on pay.
- Don't forget the legal rights of staff in the event of bad weather: employees whose children are at home due to school closures are likely to qualify for unpaid 'time off for dependents'; and special health and safety precautions at the workplace will be required in hazardous conditions. Don't force staff to attend if their journey would be dangerous.
- Do remind staff to take care with 'secret Santa' presents, to ensure that inappropriate and potentially discriminatory gifts are avoided.
- Don't cancel the Christmas bonus/gift/voucher without checking whether this may have become a contractual right for employees.
- Do exercise care in all the arrangements for the office Christmas party to ensure they are not discriminatory. This could include making sure entertainment isn't inappropriate (avoid, for example, the kind normally reserved for men's clubs or comedians likely to cause offence); there is plenty of vegetarian food (for those who for religious reasons are unable to eat certain types of meat etc); and there are suitable arrangements for disabled staff. It may also include appropriate travel arrangements for getting home safely.
- Don't refer to inviting "spouses" to the office party if you allow staff to bring guests – refer instead to "partners" to avoid allegations of sexual orientation discrimination; or even simply "guests" to avoid any potential cause of embarrassment.
- Do remind staff in advance that the Christmas party is a work-related event to which the organisation's normal disciplinary rules will apply. Highlight behaviour that will be considered gross misconduct, and remind them of the organisation's equal opportunities and harassment policies and the need to respect their colleagues. Some employers also warn that staff managers will be carefully scrutinising absences on the day of or day after the Christmas party which can have a deterrent effect if implemented.
- Don't have an unlimited "free bar". Instead limit the amount of free alcohol available and provide plenty of non-alcoholic drinks. This will also cater for staff who are driving or who don't drink for religious reasons. It is a good idea to nominate representatives who will not drink alcohol to look out for any health and safety risks at the party or any behaviour which is becoming unacceptable.
- Do remind staff of the need for sensitivity when it comes to post-party discussions, along with their responsibilities under your social media or equivalent policy. Gossip via Facebook or other social networking sites may now be more common than gossip next to the water dispenser. On more than one occasion, office gossip after the event (even started by the HR manager!) has resulted in a successful discrimination claim against the employer.
- Finally, don't jump to warnings or dismissal of staff who misbehave at the party without conducting the proper process. Ensure the matter is investigated properly and promptly and complaints by other staff members are taken seriously.
If you successfully manage to jump through all these hoops, you probably deserve a medal – but you may have to settle for a mince pie!