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A Christmas party is a chance for staff to relax and enjoy each other's company. It's also a wonderful opportunity for employees to celebrate their achievements over the last year and for you to thank them for all their hard work. However, it's important to take care to ensure the event doesn't expose your business to breaches of employment or health and safety law.
Make sure you remind your staff that the party is a work event and the usual conduct requirements (such as workplace equal treatment and anti-harassment policies) apply. Christmas parties are likely to be viewed as taking place ‘in the course of employment', so employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.
Here are some of the steps you should take to make sure the event goes smoothly:
In order to limit the possibility of a vicarious liability claim, employers may wish to consider organising an event with a clear finishing time – for example a meal in a restaurant – so that employees who wish to carry on celebrating afterwards do so at a venue of their own choosing. Employers should also bear in mind a recent Court of Appeal ruling (overturning an earlier decision of the High Court) in which a man who suffered a serious brain injury after being punched by a colleague, while they were drinking at a hotel some time after the company's Christmas party had finished, won compensation. In this particular case, the man's colleague was a director and shareholder of the company and the way he 'chose to exert his authority, indeed his dominance as the only real decision-maker', was critical to the decision that the employer was vicariously liable.