IT’S December once again and, except for the keen festive decorators who start post-Halloween, most of us will now be addressing the challenging task of untangling the fairy lights.
And it's not just Michael Bublé who reappears at this time of year either, as employment solicitors across the country emerge to remind employers and employees alike of the other type of potential “tangle” at the most wonderful time of year – festive party season.
Despite this being classic advice, it is oft repeated for good reason and all concerned would do well to pay heed.
The most important point is that, whether the event takes place at the office within working hours, or out of the office and after the working day has finished, it will be treated as an ‘extension of the workplace’.
The office party is rightfully an important event in the calendar, and I am a big fan. There are plenty of wonderful venues and great nights to be had across Northern Ireland.
While nobody wants to be Scrooge, there does need to be an understanding of boundaries and responsibility, and proactive steps should be taken to ensure that there is a safe, enjoyable and respectful environment for everyone.
So here is some general guidance and a few common-sense principles (in no particular order) which I hope ‘yule’ (sorry) find helpful:
1. Make the event inclusive. Think about, and if appropriate invite, employees who are absent from work. Consider those on family-related leave and sick leave.
2. Think about diversity too. This might feed through to your choice of venue (and how accessible it is), your dietary choices and your entertainment. There is a fine line between risqué and offensive and it’s probably best not to tread it.
3. Remind employees about the company’s behavioural expectations and the applicable policies and procedures, which may include discipline and grievance, equality, discrimination, and social media.
4. At the extreme end, you could also consider reminding your employees that, for acts of discrimination or harassment, they may potentially be held personally liable.
5. Keep in mind that the word “banter” is not a shield. Harassment, for instance, is more concerned with the perception of the recipient.
6. Be sensible about the level and frequency of alcohol supplied/consumed. Ensure you have non-alcoholic alternatives, and a bit of water does no harm too.
7. Be prepared to deal with any inappropriate behaviour or complaints, in accordance with your relevant policies and procedures.
8. No mistletoe, please; and
9. Most importantly, have fun, and remember that Die Hard is a Christmas film.
:: Ian McFarland is employment partner at Eversheds Sutherland