Kim Walters[5576]Tis the season to be jolly, but employment law specialist Kim Walters is warning employers to give careful consideration to managing the workplace this December.

Walters, from leading national law firm Blake Morgan, has urged managers to remember 12 top tips for the 12 days of Christmas.

She said: “The office party season is upon us, and for those involved in HR it requires more than a little forward planning and thought.

“Everyone wants to have a good time, but the combination of alcohol and high spirits could leave employers in a sticky situation if not carefully managed.

“Employers should be aware of the possible damaging consequences of office gossip after Christmas parties which has led to discrimination and constructive dismissal claims in the past.

“Here are our 12 festive tips to help employers have a merry but hopefully ‘claim free’ Christmas.”

1. Take care in all arrangements for the office Christmas party to ensure they are not discriminatory. This includes making sure that the entertainment is not inappropriate, there are suitable arrangements for disabled staff, and having plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and vegetarian food.

2. Ensure there is no reference to inviting spouses to the office party if you allow staff to bring guests – refer instead to “guests” to avoid allegations of discrimination.

3. Make sure there are appropriate travel arrangements in place and/or advice for getting home safely.

4. Remind staff to take care with “secret Santa” presents, and make sure they are aware of what types of gifts could cause offence and might constitute harassment on grounds of, for example, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.

5. Take a “common sense” approach to managing religion and belief in the workplace at Christmas. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published new guidance to help managers navigate through potential issues.

6. Remind staff that the Christmas party is a work-related event and normal disciplinary rules still apply. Highlight any relevant actions that are considered gross misconduct under your disciplinary policy, and provide clear examples of unacceptable behaviour.

7. Limit the amount of free alcohol available and cater properly for staff who are driving or who don’t drink for religious reasons.

8. Appoint suitable supervisors for the party who will not drink alcohol to look out for any health and safety risks at the party or any behaviour which is becoming unacceptable. Tell staff who they are.

9. Take appropriate health and safety steps – particularly concerning the venue and potentially drunken behaviour (including operating machinery afterwards or the next day where relevant).

10. Make sure you don’t jump to warnings or dismissal of staff who misbehave at the party without conducting the proper disciplinary process. Ensure the matter is investigated properly and promptly and complaints by other staff members are taken seriously.

11. Remind staff of the need for respect and sensitivity when it comes to post-party discussions. Draw attention to responsibilities under the employer’s social media or equivalent policy, to prevent potentially damaging gossip via Facebook or other social networking sites.

12. If appropriate, warn staff that managers will be carefully scrutinising absences on the day of or day after the Christmas party.