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Christmas Party season - Top 10 tips for avoiding legal issues

An office Christmas party is a chance for employee morale boosting after a year of hard work. A chance for everyone to unwind and have an evening of fun with colleagues. However, there are plenty of problems lurking underneath the mistletoe.

Adrian Hoggarth, head of employment at law firm Prolegal gives some simple tips to avoid those potential legal pitfalls:

10. Lack of a clear policy

Everyone wants to enjoy the party without feeling that their behaviour is being scrutinised, but it is also useful to have a clear policy in place to avoid any misunderstandings. Ultimately employers should implement a policy that is accessible to all employees and which provides clarity on what is expected of them at such an event, and the consequences of inappropriate behaviour. If employees know what is and what is not acceptable, and the employer acts consistently in all cases, the employer's actions will generally be reasonable.

9. Dealing with grievances

It would be easy for an employer to brush off an employee grievance after a party, on the basis that the behaviour took place in a party environment or outside of the office. Employers beware, however - employers need to ensure they investigate as they would in every other similar situation, with a view to addressing the employee's issues through the usual grievance procedure.

8. Employees absent after the event

Some employers may accept that a slightly fuzzy head might be acceptable the day after the Christmas do and allow a slightly later start. However, disciplinary issues arise when employees fail to show up for work the morning after. In these circumstances normal disciplinary rules should be applied in relation to unauthorised absence to avoid allegations of inconsistency. To avoid accusations of unfairness, employees should be warned in advance of the consequences of pulling a sickie the day after.

7. Social media

Party banter can often continue after the party, with shared recollections of the evening's events and photographs. Emails, facebook and twitter are often used in post party 'lowdown' conversations but employers should also be aware of any inappropriate conversations taking place through these channels. Harassment and bullying claims can often be related to social media and guidance for employees about its use should be given to avoid any of these allegations.

6. Party banter

It's a fine line between relaxed chatter at a party between friendly colleagues and slightly overstepping the mark. Harassment claims arising from racist, sexist or ageist jokes could ultimately be brought against employers who are liable for the actions of their employees. Employees should be advised in advance that it is no more acceptable at a party than in the office, and employers should encourage a culture of mutual respect.

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