Preventing post-Christmas party complaints

Christine Braamskamp explains how employers can avoid waking up with more than just a headache after office festive get-togethers

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As the festive season ushers in the year-end revelry, office Christmas party organisers will be keeping one eye on the fun and the other on preventing mishaps that can lead to serious reputational or regulatory repercussions. 

We regularly see a surge in post-party season non-financial misconduct complaints every January and February, with these complaints attracting increased internal or regulatory scrutiny. Regulators such as the Financial Conduct Authority now expect firms to demonstrate proactive measures to prevent misconduct, even beyond conventional office hours. And, for non-regulated entities, post-Christmas upset and disquiet does not make a good start to the new year.

While it is becoming more and more rare for alcohol to be provided in the workplace and consumption of alcohol at workplace events is increasingly controlled, the December party season continues to present issues. In response, companies are increasingly putting measures in place to mitigate reputational, legal and regulatory risks while preserving the festive spirit. The once unrestrained open bar has become a thing of the past, with it starting and finishing earlier. Companies also now have a bigger budget for food than in previous years. A well-fed workforce, it seems, is a more content and composed workforce.

There has also been a distinct shift towards more inclusive celebrations. Recognising the need for more diversity and inclusion, companies are moving away from exclusive alcohol-centric activities. Non-drink related activities are becoming more popular, creating an environment where every employee, irrespective of personal preferences or constraints, can actively participate in and enjoy the festivities.

A novel approach gaining traction is the appointment of designated sober party goers – a select few tasked with maintaining a watchful eye on proceedings. Far from being designated party poopers, this not only ensures a swift response to any untoward incidents, it also signals a commitment to the wellbeing and safety of all attendees.

Tips for employers

However, more than just superficial, seasonal adjustments are required to ensure a company future-proofs itself by instilling the right culture throughout the organisation. Management boards working closely with their HR departments should adopt a comprehensive risk mitigation strategy by not only implementing event-specific measures, but also a holistic approach ingrained in the corporate culture.

First, clarity in communication is paramount. Expectations regarding behaviour at festive events should be made clear to everyone well in advance. Reminders about the company's code of conduct should be disseminated, emphasising that festive cheer should not overshadow the principles of professionalism and respect. Furthermore, training programmes focused on responsible drinking and appropriate conduct during social events should be integrated into the corporate calendar. A short, compulsory, reminder training session on respect in the workplace never goes amiss. 

This proactive approach equips employees with the knowledge to navigate social situations and bolsters the company's commitment to fostering a safe and inclusive work environment. Should there be regulatory, employee or shareholder scrutiny post Christmas, the business will be well positioned to show it took reasonable and proportionate precautions to prevent misconduct.

In the event of misconduct, swift and decisive action is critical. Organisations should have robust mechanisms in place for reporting and addressing misconduct promptly. Clear protocols for investigation and resolution, coupled with transparency in communication, will help in managing the aftermath effectively.

Ultimately, as companies gear up for their festivities, the watchword is caution. By incorporating these measures, businesses can ensure that the season of celebration does not inadvertently sow the seeds of legal and regulatory challenges. After all, a joyous occasion should be a cause for merriment, not a catalyst for corporate reckoning come the new year.

Christine Braamskamp is managing partner of Jenner & Block’s London office