WHAT IS wrong with some employers? They spend the whole year managing their business and staff in a thoroughly professional manner and then it comes to the Christmas party.
'I know, 'they say.'Let's give our staff an all-night free bar and encourage them to dance the night away with each other - away from their significant other - in some dark club or hotel suite while we make a discreet and early exit.'Giving an employee a loaded revolver is all that is required to complete the alarming scenario.
It is not surprising that, all too often, an expensive event that was meant to thank staff for their hard work and encourage a happy working environment goes badly wrong.
After several too many at his Christmas bash, a disgruntled employee turned up at his manager's house threatening to knock it down with a bulldozer.
At another (black tie) party, the behaviour of 300 guests degenerated into a massive food fight that left the employer with a serious clean-up bill.
A third employer ended its Christmas party at 5 am and was surprised that its workmen were turning up on site at 6 am to work their shift completely drunk. One fell down a pothole and broke both his legs.
An employer will normally have to compensate anyone who is injured or harassed at a workplace party by one of its workers.There is no limit on the amount of compensation an employer can be ordered to pay where a claim of discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, race, religion or disability succeeds.
Where an employer dismisses or disciplines the alleged perpetrator, but gets it wrong, (is unreasonable or does not comply with the new statutory rules), it can be ordered to pay them compensation for unfair dismissal up to about £55,000.
An employer could be forgiven were it to decide never to hold a Christmas party again. But to do so would be to punish the majority of staff who are well-behaved and sensible, and will invite comparisons to Ebenezer Scrooge.
Having decided to have a Christmas party an employer should consider limiting the amount of alcohol on offer, especially free alcohol.Time the event, for example, to avoid long periods of solid drinking and involve food to soak up the booze.
Employers should also consider sending a memo to all staff before the party to tell them that the event is connected to their employment and that the company's disciplinary procedure will apply.
The memo can usefully tell staff that specified types of conduct, swearing, fighting, discriminatory jokes, harassment or behaviour, is likely to amount to gross misconduct resulting in dismissal.We have successfully defended claims on that basis.
Staff should also be told to refer any issues on the night to a nominated senior individual.Giving staff regular diversity training is an inexpensive way an employer can take advantage of a statutory defence to a discrimination claim and should also protect its staff.
Where an employee becomes involved in a potentially disciplinary incident, ensure that as much information as possible is collected at the event, for example, names of witnesses and CCTV footage. Always act in accordance with your disciplinary procedure and comply with the new minimum dismissal and disciplinary rules that were introduced in October.