The work Christmas Party is an occasion for all to look forward to; however it is a minefield for employment disputes and can result in unwanted disciplinary action for employees and employers finding themselves being held liable for employee’s actions.


As the clock ticks down to Christmas Party time, employers need to avoid the event becoming talked about for all the wrong reasons. Whether held in or out of working hours and on or off site, a work-organised Christmas party is an extension of the workplace which can test a business across the board on its policies, culture and attitudes.


When a workforce gets together to eat, drink and be merry, risks of misconduct, harassment, absenteeism and discrimination can be increased if employers are not careful.


In order to protect themselves (from disputes, potential claims or bad publicity) along with their staff and others, employers should be wary of the risks that are inherent during the Christmas festivities and take positive steps to mitigate this.


Now is a good time for employers to check that their policies and procedures are up-to-date and fit for purpose. It is also best practice for employees to be sent a reminder of expected behaviour at company social events making it clear that disciplinary action may follow should any misconduct arise.


Without dampening Christmas spirits, there are a few things that should be considered before the evening gets underway:


  • Are you being inclusive? Ensure that your Christmas party plans are supportive of those whose religious festivals and holidays fall at different times of the year. Although the majority of your staff may enjoy a festive tipple, ensure you are catering for those that do not drink as well.


  • Be alcohol aware. Whether you are offering an open bar or allowing employees to purchase their own drinks, be wary of the risks that the company faces if staff have too much to drink.


  • Set clear boundaries. Set out the company’s attitude towards alcohol consumption at the party. Be clear on when the event will close and make everyone aware at the appropriate time that the party is over. Discourage any ‘after party’ gatherings, which could be seen as an extension of the Christmas party.


Keep scrolling for more top tips and considerations before party season!

  • Reminders about behaviour. Remind everyone attending that actions or behaviour that would be unacceptable at work still apply when at more relaxed work or social events such as the Christmas party. With the #MeToo movement and a growing awareness about what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour at work, company’s should proactively mitigate the threat of sexual harassment claims by ensuring all staff are aware of equal opportunities, bullying and harassment polices prior to attending the Christmas party.


  • Social Media Savvy. Consider the reputational damage that could be caused to your business should damaging videos, photos or posts make their way onto social media. It would be prudent to remind employees of your social media policy and make it clear that videos and/or photos that may cause offense or bad publicity will not be tolerated.


  • Avoid work talk. The work Christmas party is not an ideal place to discuss sensitive or confidential work or matters such as pay and office politics. Ensure that managers and employees are aware of this.


  • Health & Safety. Take into consideration any activities that are taking place at the party and your responsibility in the event of accident or injury. Also keep in mind health and safety the morning after the Christmas party, if it is held on a working day, particularly where machinery or driving is involved, in case anyone is still under the influence of alcohol.


  • Tackle absenteeism. Be clear on your sickness and absence policies, particularly if your work social events take place on working days. The winter months often see an increase in sickness absence which inevitably impacts on productivity.


If something does go wrong at the Christmas party you should act promptly to investigate and make sure the company’s grievance and/or disciplinary policies are followed. You must treat any reported incidents as if they had happened in the workplace during working hours as failure to do so could lead to substantial claims, loss of employees and associated damage to your company’s reputation.


Each year we see significant cases reaching tribunals and courts from incidents arising at work Christmas parties. It is therefore important to ensure that you have protected yourself and your business ahead of time by considering the risks identified above and if an incident does occur, make sure it is dealt with properly to minimise the damage.


For help and advice please contact our Employment Law Team on 01256 844888 or email enquiries@lambbrooks.com


Other articles you may be interested in reading:

Dealing with Mental Health Issues at Work

LGBTQ Rights in the Workplace

When does a Hug become Unacceptable Behaviour?



The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.