11th December 2014



 Issue No.  2014/18



Party Poppers or Party Poopers


Ho ho ho!!!  It’s that time of year again!  (is that “Oh no”, we hear your sigh?)

Christmas will soon be upon us: decorations, secret Santa’s and office parties!  A celebration and fun for some but a potential nightmare for the unwary.

We remind you of a few pointers that we sent out last year that may help you through the festive period and avoid some HR, H&S and Food Safety pitfalls

Christmas Decorations – a few simple rules:

When hanging Christmas decorations, ensure the correct equipment is used and only by those who are trained e.g. use appropriate ladders / access equipment rather than standing on chairs / desks / tables. Falls from height could cause a broken leg (and we don’t mean the chair / table leg!).

Make sure any display decorations don’t obstruct safety equipment such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, walkways or exits or obscure important safety signs/notices or emergency lighting. Also make sure they do not pose a fire hazard by being close to heaters or any other form of ignition. The Christmas lights should of course be PAT tested. Were they safely tucked in their box when the last tests were done and have been missed?

Think twice about hanging up mistletoe.  It won’t take long for you to realise that these days it is not appropriate for anything to be endorsed by the employer that encourages what might well be unwanted physical contact or an approach that has an over familiar and possible sexual harassment connotation.

Having a ‘bit of a do’ this Christmas?

Official Company / Department Christmas parties are a rich source of employment law horror stories, from pranks that went too far, to complaints of being groped in the stationery cupboard. Where the ‘works do’ is arranged by work, paid for by work and attended by employees and sometimes partners / family, this is likely to be seen legally as an extension of the workplace. This can render the employer vicariously liable for incidents that occur!

Just think about the potential for the following: -

  • someone says something they don’t mean (or perhaps would not say if sober) which upsets colleagues; or
  • someone ‘tries it on’ with a colleague. The ‘advance’ may not be welcomed and could amount to sexual harassment; or
  • two employees argue and fuelled with alcohol, it turns into a fight; or
  • an employee drives home over the legal limit and the recent tightening of the blood / alcohol levels now applying in Scotland should put you on higher alert. 

Be aware that if your 'do' is planned for 13th December or later, the new Regulations governing obligation to provide information on the specific allergens contained in each and every food item will apply when the catering is provided by a ‘food business’. 

Whilst talk of the recession lifting is encouraging us all, the official Christmas party may still be ‘off the agenda’ for many.  When colleagues organise their own ‘bit of a do’, without us wanting to appear to be part of the ‘bah humbug brigade’ we do need to point out that colleague ‘get togethers’ could also be deemed an extension of work. Even though not paid for by work, depending on the facts, the Employer could be liable for any unfortunate events at that function!

So what should you do?

Whilst nothing is simple these days, just take a few straight forward precautions.

When inviting staff to the office party, include a comment reminding them that it is a ‘Company event’ and they should bear in mind that they are representing the company and that the usual standards apply. In other words, they are expected to behave. Ask them to act sensibly and do not do anything that damages the reputation of the organisation or upsets or offends colleagues or anybody else.

If you are providing food – if ‘bought in’ then the provider should provide allergen information.  Reputable providers will do this.  You just need to make that information available.  The specific regulations will not apply if you are not a ‘food business’ operator.  However, if you are buying items and making them up yourselves, you still have a general duty of care.  This will prompt you to enquire from staff if they have any particular food allergy.  If so, you can take appropriate precautions not to put them at risk.  For example, precautions when handling foods and ensuring adequate serving spoons are provided to avoid cross contamination from one dish to another.  Label foods if allergens are present in the dish / sandwich etc. or have a matrix available to enable staff to make informed, safe decisions as to what food they can eat.  Click here for a free template which lists the 14 allergens that are included in the new Regulations (Food Information Regulations 2014).  

We hope we haven't come across as being overly 'bah humbug' and that these words don’t subdue your celebrations too much and that you have a very happy and hassle free Holiday Season. 

If you need any more information about the potential pitfalls during the Festive Season please give us a call on 08456 446006.






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The advice and comment in this update is not meant to be an authoritative statement of law. The articles and summaries should not be applied to any specific set of facts and circumstances without seeking further advice. Whilst every care is taken to ensure that the content is correct Sentient cannot accept responsibility for the accuracy of statements made nor the result of any actions taken by individuals after reading such.

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