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Avoid Nasty Festive Surprises

Friday, 6 December 2013

There’s nothing like an unexpected liability to ruin the festive season.

As the holiday season quickly approaches, many employers are planning office parties for their employees. In the past, employer liability for employee injury may have been less of a risk but many businesses now face a range of personal compensation claims if celebrations take an unexpected turn.

Notable hazards include discrimination, harassment and personal injury compensations claims which can all heavily impact a business’s financial solvency, human resources, and employee morale.

Here are some tips for a happy holiday.

Make Sure Everyone Feels Welcome

Employers should take care not to exclude any employee from the celebration to avoid discrimination claims. This could occur, for example, by titling the party “Christmas,” which may indicate non-Christian employees are not as welcome; by not including same-sex partners; or by failing to contact any employee who might be on leave for illness.

Venues must be accessible for any employee with disabilities and not offend any religion or sex.

Finally, it should be remembered that harassment claims could arise from racist or sexist entertainment or even from party banter, so employers should establish behavioural expectations in advance.

Alcohol and Food Risks

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) warns that employers’ liability extends even beyond injury that might occur on party premises to injury that occurs after the employee leaves the event under certain circumstances.

This is especially the case when an employer supplies alcohol at an office party creating a high risk of incurring additional liability for any injury that affects an employee during and after attending the office party. Transport should be arranged in advance for employees to avoid drink driving.

Food can also present potential liability for injury. Proper food handling and serving is essential to prevent food poisoning. Further, all food should be clearly labelled in order to allow any employees with food allergies to avoid harmful reactions. Offering a vegetarian option ensures all employees will have options even with religious or dietary restrictions and inquiring ahead of time as to any requirements can minimise this risk.

Calling Time on the Office Party

Due to these potential risks, some employers have decided to cancel holiday parties altogether, projecting an unreasonable amount of potential liability for employees personal behaviour.

Many smaller businesses especially calculate they would not be able to provide the necessary funds to defend against an employee’s injury claim, and if the employee wins, a small business could even be rendered insolvent.


Although there are risks, office parties can be a great way to boost morale and, if managed properly, need not put employers off entirely.

ACAS advises that employers can still host holiday parties for employees’ enjoyment and minimise liability for employee compensation claims with a few precautions. These include not oversupplying alcohol, providing plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages, ensuring that the party ends while public transportation is still running and making sure taxis are available.

Employers should be vigilant regarding all employees’ behaviour during their parties and employees should also be advised of expectations regarding personal responsibility during celebrations. Grievance procedures should also be available in the event of any complaint.

Setting expectations and establishing a reasonable policy in advance can help facilitate an enjoyable and issue-free evening.

For more advice contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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