Ahhh the office Christmas party. The supposed annual nightmare for the HR Team. Of all the traditional Christmas-related workplace events, the Christmas party sure is the one that is surrounded by the most myths.
HR Departments sending out pre-Christmas party checklists? Alcohol being banned? The party itself replaced with a simple lunch or, even more severely, not held at all to avoid legal claims or grievances? I mean, just type ‘office Christmas party’ into an online search engine and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
In recent years, perhaps not unsurprisingly, some employers have simply stopped having Christmas parties to avoid the hassle and stress of dealing with the ‘troubles’ that emerge. You’d think that, as an Employment Law Solicitor, I’d see that as a good thing? Absolutely not! So, why is that?
Well, despite the negative headlines, Christmas parties are a rare opportunity for employees to meet individuals from other teams and hang out with their colleagues in a social environment. Yes, employees can be warned beforehand not to go overboard but, put simply, if they do go wildly overboard, they can be swept up by way of the employer’s disciplinary procedure afterwards. Some employers, therefore, simply accept that employing people always carries risk of some variety and, instead, focus on the fact that the increased workplace morale which usually accompanies having a Christmas party can far outweigh any prospective risk.
So, to be clear, this blog is a light-hearted look at Christmas parties which are reported to have gone awry rather than acting as a warning against having them. After all, who could have predicted some of the examples below?
Example one – The employee who, several glasses of wine to the wind in an office-based Christmas party, bragged about her past history as an amateur gymnast and attempted a backflip… Yes, we can all see where this is going: a bump to the head, a broken chair, spilt drinks and an incident spoken about for weeks!
Example two – The employee who spent all night moaning about her ‘useless’ Manager (whom we shall call Dave) and, after one too many egg nogs, ended up asking someone ‘not to mention all my complaints to Dave’. That person? Dave! Uh oh!
Example three – The famous employee who, during a work Christmas meal at a Greek restaurant, decided to engage in some ‘banter’ and hit the CEO on the head with a plate. Unfortunately, said employee didn’t realise that the plates used in Greek restaurants for this purpose are specifically designed to do so and so, instead, ending up hitting the CEO on the head with a heavy, normal dinner plate and gifting him a temporary bump on the head. Whilst the misunderstanding was cleared up, it is safe to say that the employee wasn’t top of the CEO’s Christmas card list that year…
Example four – The Employee who accidentally managed to hit his colleague in the Sales team in the eye with a champagne cork (without causing serious injury) and, instead of apologising, declared it to be a ‘cracking shot’. They never spoke again.
Now, the above are just a few examples of ‘daft’ Christmas party incidents. They don’t concern anything that is discriminatory in nature or that could constitute sexual harassment – those, obviously, are the two major concerns at a work-related Christmas party. However, as above, if an employee commits a discriminatory act or an act of sexual harassment, then that can be handled appropriately soon after.
On the whole, most workplaces recall the odd colleague’s embarrassing moment each few years but nothing too sinister. So, perhaps unusually in my field, I hope Christmas parties are viewed as rare opportunities for employees to socialise and unwind. And in this cold, dark Christmas season, what could be more fun than that? Merry Christmas everyone 🙂