Party Poppers or Party Poopers?
As the Christmas period rapidly approaches, once again we suggest some tips for a smooth and hopefully problem-free Christmas.
Having a ‘bit of a do’ this Christmas?
In our recent Update we covered ‘Explosive Atmospheres’ of a DSEAR kind. If our advice service around this time of year is anything to go by, there are plenty of alternative causes of explosive atmospheres – namely the Christmas ‘do’.
Official 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. We can even remember an Ops Director having to dodge the occasional but strategically propelled profiterole!
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.
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! That said, a recent court decision decided that when a Director who left a company do, but continued drinking with colleagues in a totally different establishment, the company was not liable for the personal injury claim raised by a colleague after the Director punched him! Just be aware, this was a very case specific decision and we would not recommend you relying on it should you feel inclined to take a similar route. After all - if the company is not liable then the individual presumably is.
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.
And if you are providing food – if ‘bought in’ then the provider should adhere to appropriate food standards and should provide allergen information. Reputable providers will do this. You just need to make allergen information available. The specific regulations will not apply if you are not a ‘food business’ operator. If you are buying items and making them up yourselves, you still have a general duty of care. This will prompt you to make sure good food hygiene precautions are applied and that you enquire from staff if they have any particular food allergy.
You should avoid preparing food too far in advance and leaving it out in a warm room for too long. Wherever possible keep foods such as cooked meats, sausage rolls, quiches, meat pies, rice dishes, prawns, cream cakes and trifles etc. (the high risk foods) in a refrigerator until ready for serving.
So if you are having a Christmas ‘do’ this year – we hope you have a good time and that it is problem free. We survived ours at the end of last week and lived to tell the tale.
We remind you of 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 broken legs (and we don’t mean the chair / table)!
Make sure decorations don’t obstruct safety equipment such as smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, walkways or exit. Also that they don’t obscure important safety signs/notices or emergency lighting, 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.
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 Christmas and New Year.
If you need any more information about the potential pitfalls during the Festive Season please give us a call on 03456 446006.