‘Twas the nightmare before Christmas – beware the perils of the office party

We were having the annual Sagegreen debate about the BIG EVENT the other day – no, not Brexit or the forthcoming results of Strictly 2019 but, the annual ‘Christmas Do’.

Quite apart from the lengthy discussions around choice of venue, we started to share examples of issues that have arisen for clients over the years with their festive celebrations and how the road to party hell can be paved with the very best of intentions.

This started me thinking about how to prepare for our own celebrations and what to advise clients about planning for theirs without completely spoiling the party mood.

Attending a Christmas party or any other function organised by the employer, is generally considered to be “in the course of employment” and therefore, even if the party is held offsite and outside of normal working hours, employers remain responsible for the health, safety and wellbeing of employees.

It also means that employers may be vicariously liable for the behaviour of their employees.

So, if you are planning your bash you may find a little guidance helpful on aspects such as free bars, getting home and how to manage the party aftermath.

Discrimination and sexual harassment claims

The number of discrimination and in particular sexual harassment claims increases during the festive period. Employers have a defence against the claim if they took such steps as were reasonably practicable to prevent the discrimination or harassment taking place.

Reasonable steps would include notifying employees beforehand of the standards of behaviour expected at the party and that inappropriate behaviour and comments may constitute harassment and will not be tolerated.

Free bars

Free bars can be a dangerous thing as they encourage excessive drinking. Instead you should think about limiting the number of free drinks.

Getting home 

Remind staff before the party to make safe travel arrangements home. Alternatively consider providing designated drivers, buses or taxis home or arranging hotel accommodation nearby.

After the party

If disciplinary action is necessary following the party, ensure you follow all the company disciplinary policy and procedure and that any action taken is fair and consistent. If in any doubt contact Sagegreen.

If you think absence the day after the party may be a problem warn employees that disciplinary action may be taken against ‘no-shows’ the following day, unless the absence is properly authorised.

Actions employers should consider include:

  • A pre-warning to staff (email/memo) highlighting the company’s expectations for the forthcoming party, acceptable standards of behaviour and the dangers and consequences of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • Discussions with individuals who have perhaps been involved in incidents at previous events
  • Organised transport to avoid incidents of drink driving
  • Availability of clear guidelines for dealing with drunken behaviour
  • Employers/organisers should avoid too much alcohol themselves, so they can keep a clear eye on proceedings and set a good example


Finally, don’t forget the Revenue allows employers to spend up to £150 per head on Christmas parties without tax or national insurance liability!


If you want to be left the morning after wrapped in a rosy glow rather than cowering under a darkened cloud please just give me a call or drop me an email.

Jane Caven

01606 333677