Now that the festive season is in full swing, many people will be looking forward to letting their hair down at the office Christmas party. However, while a celebration is a great way to boost staff morale by rewarding staff and giving everyone a chance to bond, the office party also has the potential to create problems far more serious than just a bad hangover.

Not everyone realises it, but employment laws do apply to workplace parties – even those that happen outside the workplace. As a result, employers may be liable for incidents of harassment that take place at Christmas parties, and could consequently find themselves facing Employment Tribunal Claims.

Acas, the independent organisation that provides employment law advice to employers and employees, has issued guidance on how people can avoid the pitfalls of workplace celebrations this Christmas. Predictably, drink-fuelled behaviour is behind many such Tribunal claims brought by employees each year, but the risk of these claims can be reduced if employers and employees take some simple precautions.

The Acas guidance states: “Without risking being seen as party-poopers, employers should consider reminding staff of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour at staff social events – as well as highlighting the likely consequences of such behaviour.”

Acas suggests limiting the amount of alcohol available at parties, as well as providing plenty of food to soak up the alcohol and prevent people from getting too drunk. They advise employers to consider the feelings of those employees who do not drink alcohol at all, and ensure that a range of soft drinks are on offer. Acas also suggests that employers could consider briefing any speakers or entertainers in advance, to ensure that their material is suitable and won’t cause offence.

If all else fails, employers must ensure that they deal with any complaints of wrongdoing in a way that is timely and fair. Equally, anyone who is a victim of bad behaviour at their staff party should let their employer know as soon as possible. It is important to remember that most Employment Tribunal claims must be submitted within three months of the act complained of, and any delay could result in a claim being out of time.

Beecham Peacock can advise on all aspects of employment law. For more information, call 0191 2323048 or email

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