Overdoing it at the Christmas 'do'

End-of-year functions can have awkward consequences

Tis the season to… write policies on Christmas Party behaviour and safety.

Ahhh, the old Christmas office party. The mistletoe, the bubbly, the dress up themes. Such fun.

But in an increasingly risk-averse and litigious society, are there dangers for employers in the traditional Christmas do?

An article on the British Computer Society website warns about the dangers for employers about the end of year bash.

It says behaviour deemed inappropriate at the office should also be considered inappropriate in a social environment.

“At all work related events, employers remain responsible for the well-being and behaviour of their employees.”

The article quotes a recent survey that said 75% of employers have had to take disciplinary action against workers following a work Christmas party.

75% seems an astonishing figure. Maybe I’ve been going to the wrong parties!

The point being made, however, is that the employer can be held liable if there is a problem.

“Staff must be made aware that inappropriate behaviour and comments, particularly those relating to gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion or belief, are unacceptable, and may be considered harassment.”

The article advises not only implementing anti-harassment and discrimination policies well before the event, but ensuring everyone knows about them and particularly the fact that they apply at the office party.

The article goes as far as suggesting designating someone to monitor the activities of partygoers. Now that would be a popular job. The article also warns about all sorts of other issues from safety to drug use.

An article on Online Recruitment quotes the managing editor of IRS Employment Review, Mark Crail as saying Christmas has become more complex than ever. What do you do about staff levels when society is increasingly 24x7? What sort of alternative arrangements do you make for people who don’t celebrate Christmas?

You might think that with all the potential hassles, Christmas parties might to the way of other events that have become too complex to hold (like some school camps), but a recent British survey says not.

A recent British survey (by IRS Employment Review) quoted in the Online Recruitment article shows seven out of 10 employers said they would hold a Christmas party this year. But, as you might expect, they also were thinking about some of the issues mentioned above — including staff safety, behaviour and transport.

If you work for a company which doesn’t employ a party monitor, then you’ll have to watch you own behaviour. The New York Daily News recently featured an article on embarrassing things done at the company party.

“There was the guy who stuffed several meals' worth of beef tenderloin from a buffet into a Duane Reade shopping bag, the guest who urinated in a fountain, the reveller-turned-Olympian who threw a 15-pound cheese wheel at a caterer and the conspiracy theorist who accused a waiter of being a Taliban member.”

The article also gives some tips: show up ("You don't want to look like you're snubbing a company function”); don’t drink too much (“Repeat after us: ‘I will not get drunk. I will not get drunk’.”); don’t overeat; and don’t make a move on that gorgeous redhead (“Even if the attraction is mutual, the company Christmas party is not the place to act on it").

Finally, the article has the results of a survey on the number of respondents who reported seeing people at Christmas functions do various things.

Nearly 80% said they saw someone get overly intoxicated and 69% saw people take centrepieces or other décor items without permission.

Inappropriate dress was spotted by 62%, dancing in an overly suggestive way by 42% and having sex at an event by 16%.

Have a Merry Christmas – and remember no throwing cheese wheels at people you suspect of belonging to the Taliban. See you in the New Year.

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz

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