‘Tis the season to be jolly! However, while nobody wants to be the clichéd HR killjoy… not too jolly? Sorry, but vicarious liability (“In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.” –ACAS) can be a real buzzkill and while most of the team are thinking about fairy lights and Quality Street, it’s HR’s job to ensure that the fallout from seasonal festivities and parties is minimal.
So, while many of your colleagues might be looking forward to the tinsel and eggnog, here’s a checklist of the basics to consider so as to prevent an ‘Xmas hangover’…
- Remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas
This is perhaps the most obvious point. Depending on background, upbringing, religion (if any) and so on, your various employees will celebrate in various ways. Some won’t do so at all, others may be celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule… And even if everyone is up for some Christmas cheer, they won’t all agree on how to do it. It’s a balancing act: you want to encourage everyone who wants to join in, and yet not put undue pressure on anyone, especially that could result in a complaint or claim.
There are as many different ways of celebrating (and not celebrating) late December as there are people.
Part of Christmas might be decorating the office – lights, a tree, tinsel and baubles, paper chains… all good fun. Advent calendars, chocolates, fruit, poinsettias, all good. However, alongside considering your diverse workforce, there’s also a question of business image: if you have a public area, shopfloor, counter, etc. then whether you decorate or not will depend on your customers – what’s their stance on Xmas – and on the nature of your business (I haven’t checked, but I doubt, for example, that funeral directors go large on the inflatable santas and illuminated reindeer). BTW, when it comes to mistletoe, just don’t. If you have an office party with alcohol, there’s already a risk of a sexual harassment complaint without the need to hang the ‘kissing twig’.
- The Christmas party
A list within a list. Things to ponder if you’re planning a party:
- Who’s coming? Not everyone, probably and if it’s their choice not to then absolutely fine. But to avoid disappointing those up for a party, consider what location and time works best for the most people (e.g. some people may have childcare arrangements to make).
- Not everyone drinks alcohol so remember to provide (or choose a venue that has) non-alcoholic beverages.
- Similarly, if you provide food, even just a few nibbles, bear in mind people’s different dietary requirements: vegetarian, vegan, coeliac, whatever (and regardless of whether the motivation is principled, religious or a personal whim) they should be respected.
- Put the HR killjoy hat on for a few minutes and establish a few ground rules that you expect employees to follow (remember, this party is “in a workplace context” so whatever happens, the employer may have responsibility). Think about standards of behaviour, consumption of alcohol, drugs (best not), fights (also best not but workplace grudges and rivalries can boil over) and what constitutes inappropriate and/or actionable remarks.
- Remind your managers that no matter how many sherries they have, they should avoid conversations about promotions and career prospects in case rash promises are made or heard.
- Finally, how are people getting home? If people are drinking then is there public transport? Can you lay on taxis?
- The aftermath
Whether it’s hangovers in the office the day after a party, or people dragging themselves into work on the 27th looking and feeling ‘overindulged’, consider the impact of any Christmas activity on your business. Maybe it’s best to give everyone the morning off? Maybe you only need a skeleton staff (and those covering the partygoers get covered in turn when they take time off).
Also, think in advance about social media… Everybody snapping and then uploading might lead to an unwelcome viral post – all publicity is not good.
But… aside from all the above warnings and cautious counsel, for those wanting to enjoy it, Christmas is meant to be fun (‘tis the season, after all) and HR’s job isn’t to stop that, just to make sure it’s safe.
Wishing you ‘safe jollity’…