6th January 2016

The Christmas Cracker You’ll Wish You Never Pulled: Why I HATE the office Christmas party

The Christmas Cracker You’ll Wish You Never Pulled: Why I HATE the office Christmas party

I can’t decide if it is because of the inevitable prospect of seeing photos of myself on Facebook which (at the time), I had encouraged colleagues to take. Or whether it is the level of concentration required to hear what colleagues are mumbling to me at the free bar over the background noise of synth melodies and sleigh bells (Wham: Last Christmas, anyone?). Or maybe it is because of the yearly alcohol-fuelled inappropriate outburst from a colleague telling me that they have always loved me ….

That last one has never actually happened to me.

However it is not unusual for a bit of Christmas cheer mixed with a few jaegerbombs to result in a PDOA (public display of (office) affection).

Office workers beware

  • At some point before the cashroom-girls-group-selfie, you should remind yourself that unwanted advances to colleagues are likely to fall foul of the acceptable conduct standards set by your employer. Whilst at the time, you may think of your colleague as your star-crossed lover, it’s probably better for you to pick someone that you don’t have to sit next to for the rest of the year. It is likely that, if you misbehave at the office Christmas party, you are likely to be disciplined for this when you return to work on the Monday morning.
  • Additionally (and preferably before the Mailmen kill it on the karaoke), you should remind yourself that it would not be appropriate to speak more frankly to your boss about a payrise or to colleagues about their annoying habits. If you can’t say it to them sober, don’t say it to them drunk.
  • And lastly, before the employment team start tearing up the dancefloor, remember that the employer’s sickness and absence policy is likely to be applied consistently throughout the festive season. If your Christmas party is mid-week and you choose to over-indulge, it is unlikely that any subsequent duvet days will be ignored. Festive hangovers and booze flu are not likely to be acceptable reasons for absences, regardless of the timing of the office party. Don’t let yourself be the one that your colleagues talk about for the rest of the year.

Employers beware

As an employment lawyer, it is a disappointing truth that an employer is liable for any discriminatory acts of its employees which are carried out in the course of employment. This means that an employer could be liable to an employee who is faced with unwanted advances by a colleague at the office Christmas party. The law is also clear that it does not matter whether these advances are carried out with the employer’s knowledge or approval.

It is however a defence for the employer to demonstrate that it took all reasonable steps to prevent the employee from taking these actions. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Code of Practice suggests that reasonable steps are likely to include:

  • Implementing an equality policy
  • Ensuring workers are aware of the policy
  • Providing equal opportunities training
  • Reviewing the policy as appropriate
  • Dealing effectively with employee complaints

But take my advice, as soon as you spot the first sprig of mistletoe heading in your direction or hear the opening bars of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, grab hold of your pint and run for the nearest exit…

Simon Allison
Partner – Head of Employment Law



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