Time to scrap the office Christmas party, says Shulmans solicitor

The office Christmas party is usually considered to be one of the highlights of the corporate year, but Ian Dawson, head of employment at Shulmans, has suggested that it may be time to scrap it altogether.

Dawson says that businesses should consider whether or not the concept of the Christmas party is outdated in today’s multi-cultural society. He says that few employees who don’t celebrate Christmas will raise objections to the annual event, because they’re too polite and “don’t want to be seen as a Grinch”. He says that they then make excuses as to why they can’t attend and thus lose out on the treat provided for others.

“It’s important that employers are inclusive towards all staff,” said Dawson.

“If a free work Christmas party is being provided that they feel they cannot attend, then perhaps it’s time to look at offering all employees something else instead. We’ve certainly seen an increase in firms holding parties at different times of the year rather than December, as there are no religious overtones and less emphasis on employees behaving badly ‘because it’s Christmas’”.

“There’s just something about the office Christmas party; it’s often the only work event that embraces everyone from boardroom to post room, so understandably employees place a lot of emphasis on making the most of it. However, it is important not to forget that the contract of employment still stands, even when the office party is held off work premises,” he said.

Dawson advises employers to avoid a free bar and to just put up with the complaints from employees.

“Employers have a duty of care towards their employees. There is something of a blurred line of responsibility between paying for your workforce to enjoy themselves, and supplying so much free booze that they consume quantities that result in them becoming ill, or getting into a fight, or worse.

“It’s also advisable to keep your party for staff only, for this reason,” he added, “as the question of vicarious liability – do you have a duty of care for someone you don’t employ – is problematic.”

Dawson also recommends doing away with traditions such as buying gifts for colleagues.

“Secret Santa gifts have also been known to cause problems for employers, as employees play jokes on one another by giving inappropriate gifts.”

“It’s better to go for the tombola option,” he advised, “where you have a budget limit but otherwise don’t know who you’re buying for. The gifts have a ticket number, the employees choose a ticket out of a hat, and the gifts are given on this more random basis. [It] saves a lot of potential problems.”