Minimising Christmas party carnage - Business Works
BW brief

Minimising Christmas party carnage

by Darryll Thomas, Associate Solicitor, Wilkes Partnership The office Christmas party is one of the highlights of the year for most workplaces, but Darryll Thomas, Associate Solicitor at the Wilkes Partnership is advising employers to ensure they have measures in place to avoid inappropriate staff behaviour, which could result in claims for discrimination, harassment or even assault being brought against an organisation.

It is important that employers and their employees remember that employment laws continue to apply, even when an office party takes place outside of working hours and off work premises. Incidents that occur during a Christmas party may not only land the employee in trouble, but also could cause problems for the employer.

While most parties pass with no more than a dodgy dance move or two, employers can use some simple measures to help the event pass without incident and with reduced risk, while also not spoiling the fun of staff.

There are several key problem areas that may arise before, during and after the Christmas party – discrimination, harassment and absence.


To avoid accusations of discrimination, employers should ensure their Christmas party does not exclude any employees by not providing soft drinks, vegetarian options or catering for any religious food restrictions. However, employees who do not celebrate Christmas should not be pressured to attend the party or penalised if they choose not to attend on grounds of religion or belief. If the party occurs during work hours, if an employee is forbidden from celebrating Christmas due to their religion, it would be advisable and fair to allow this employee to leave the office without forcing them to use annual leave.


Bosses should make sure their company’s harassment and acceptable behaviour policies are communicated accurately to employees and remind them they are still representing their organisation during their Christmas party, as firms can also be liable for incidents of harassment that take place at work-related social events. Having an up-to-date harassment policy and making staff aware of this throughout the year can help to reduce the risk of claims arising. But, if any complaints are received following the party they should be investigated promptly.


Finally, absence from work the day following a Christmas party is a risk that many employers will be well aware of. However, employers should not jump to conclusions that an absence is unauthorised unless they have proof. It’s important not to adopt too draconian an approach – after all, the Christmas party is an opportunity for everyone to relax and enjoy themselves. But, perhaps managers can give a gentle reminder that normal office hours apply the next day.

Ultimately, the Christmas party is about rewarding and thanking staff for their efforts, and following some basic steps can help give employers peace of mind – allowing them and their employees chance to enjoy the celebrations.

For more information about The Wilkes Partnership, please visit the

Tweet article
BW on TwitterBW RSS feed