The COVID Christmas Party

Will the COVID Christmas Party bring the 3rd wave of COVID infections in 2021? Now we are free to come and go at will and COVID-19 has lost its edge, do you want to be responsible for it returning to your business?

an image of a sparkly party shoe to depict the COVID Christmas Party

Love it or loathe it, office Christmas party time is coming. Despite face to face Christmas parties being a washout in 2020, this year they might be on the return with a bang. But is it safe and what alternatives do you have?

Getting the business together after 18 months of lockdown might feel is a risky strategy given COVID is still very much amongst us. How can you ensure that you are not putting yourself, your teams, and the business at risk?

Of course along with the reintroduction of the Christmas Parties you also have the reintroduction of the Christmas party fall out that hits employers each year. Drunkenness brings with it a host of bad behaviour resulting in sometimes significant offences being committed.  But don’t worry, Metis HR guide is here to help avoid this HR headache.

Taking a pro-active step against COVID will ensure the COVID Christmas Party doesn’t result in spreading infection and a rise of absence and isolation at Christmas time.

What Are The Potential Problems At The COVID Christmas Party?

Throw together a group of people who don’t normally see each other socially, add some alcohol and the letting down of hair and you have seemingly endless opportunities for offence to be caused and bad behaviour. Sometimes the bad behaviour is fairly innocuous and sometimes it is very serious.

Some serious office Christmas party problems are:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Violence and aggression
  • Damage to property or theft
  • Verbal abuse or hate speech
  • Bringing the company into disrepute
  • Rise in COVID transmission
  • Rise in isolation cases

It doesn’t always have to be alcohol-related, either. There are some very cringe-worthy horror stories here that no doubt resulted in a big metaphorical mess for HR to clean up. 

Ask any HR professional and they will be able to tell you of a time when the office Christmas party has resulted in a grievance, a disciplinary, or even a dismissal. This can be stressful and costly. What’s more, it can damage morale and productivity.

‘If you do need to carry out a disciplinary, manage a grievance, or dismiss a colleague over behaviour at an office Christmas do, get advice from an HR professional. An outsourced HR advisor, like us here at Metis HR, can help with that and ensure you don’t break any rules or leave yourself vulnerable.’-Alison Driver-MD of Metis HR

Even if they don’t go as far as that, bad feeling between colleagues over an ill-advised comment or action at an office Xmas party can grow. This can lead to an unproductive and unhappy workforce. Prevention is better than cure, though, so let’s have a look at how you can avoid some of the possible pitfalls.

Set A Booze Policy

For most people, getting in the Christmas spirits is part of the fun of the office do, and many employers like to show their appreciation to their staff by paying for a few drinks.

You don’t have to dig too deeply on the internet to find a hundred horror stories of drunken people acting unacceptably or criminally because they were too drunk on a work’s Christmas ‘do’.

There are some interesting examples of tribunals resulting from Christmas party incidents here.

Because the office ‘do’ is legally seen as an extension of the workplace, it is acceptable, advisable even, to implement a policy or expectations about alcohol and behaviour in general on the night.

You might want to set a limit to the number of drinks your colleagues can have, or you might just decide to remind them of the consequences before the event.

Have plenty of soft drinks on offer so people do not keep drinking out of convenience. You could also shut the bar early.

However, this might not be a popular idea so if you are worried that staff getting too drunk will be an issue, consider having a party that doesn’t hinge on booze. Themed days, meals out, and team building activities are all fun alternatives.

Avoid Indirect Discrimination

Christmas parties are the prime opportunity for indirect discrimination-especially if you have people who do not celebrate Christmas in your company.

This is discrimination that excludes a person or a group because of a limitation or stipulation of a protected characteristic. For example, holding the office party in a pub excludes people whose religion forbids them from entering a pub.

Having an activity-based Covid Christmas party might exclude colleagues with a physical disability. It could also be the cause of the spread of COVID-19 amongst your work force.

Be sure you consider your workforce and plan an event that includes everyone and don’t forget colleagues on maternity leave or off long term due to illness. 

Ensure the venue you select is covid safe for your teams and clients if they are joining you.

Manage Absences

The morning after the night before can be tricky if you are in HR, as people ring in sick with mystery illnesses or attend but are unproductive and unfit for work.

If your staff Xmas party is on a weeknight, consider how you can prevent an upturn in absences.

You might stagger start times, allow people to work from home, or plan an ‘easy’ day of catching up on those long put off tasks and allow casual clothes.

Or you might decide to treat the day after as a normal working day and have a zero-tolerance approach to absences the day after the Christmas party. If this is the case make it fully known prior to the party taking place.

It is something you should consider before the event, or you could end up with a few disciplinaries to deal with.

Remind People Of The Rules

Remind your colleagues before the party of the standards of behaviour expected, the rules of the business, and the consequences of breaking those rules and expectations.

It can help to prevent any poor behaviour if you just gently remind your colleagues that they are expected to behave in a certain way and there will be consequences if they fail to do so.

We can help you review your policies and contracts of employment to make sure they cover all bases and will protect the company against any eventualities.

The covid rules are relaxed right now. More and more people are vaccinated against the virus but this does not guarantee there are no risks of infection. Ensure no one is allowed to attend The Covid Christmas Party, who show any of the symptoms, you could ask people to show a negative lateral flow test 30 min prior to attending which they produce at the venue. Positive tests will be refused entry. This might provide you with some mitigation of risk.

Metis HR can help you answer the COVID Christmas Party question.

Call us now on 01706 565332 for a no obligation, free to you, conversation.

Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses.

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