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Hosting a Christmas Party at Work: Employer Obligations and Employee Safety

Dec 20, 2022 | HR Canada, HR Tips, Workplace

Office parties provide a much-needed break from work, allowing employees to finally let their hair down and enjoy themselves. However, they also come with the potential for problems. One false move from an employee, and your business could land in hot water.

As an employer, you need to be aware of your obligations while hosting such events and ensure that your employees stay safe. This includes providing adequate security, managing alcohol consumption, and preventing any kind of discrimination or harassment. By taking precautions, you can ensure that your holiday party is a fun, enjoyable, and safe event for all involved.

Do you have Christmas and new-year parties lined up at your workplace? Use this guide to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and everyone has a good time.

1. Have Policies in Place Before the Office Party

Reminding everyone in advance about the company’s rules is the first step in ensuring a safe, successful, and secure party. You need to be proactive and have strong policies in place outlining the Dos and Don’ts at parties as well as making sure your Violence and Harassment training and policies are up to date. Here’s the list of policies you need:

    • Company Events Policy
    • Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace
    • Code of Conduct
    • Violence and Harassment in the Workplace
    • Statement of Human Rights Commitment
    • Company Dress Code

If you don’t have these policies, get them drafted before you announce the event and make sure all employees are aware of them. You need to take every reasonable step to avoid accidents happening at the event, and if they do, having these policies will put you in a safer position as an employer and will help to save you from legal trouble.

2. Set Expectations

It is a sensible step to issue a statement to employers ahead of the party itself, reminding them of expectations for appropriate behaviour, responsible drinking, and your zero tolerance stance against harassment and discrimination. These days, office parties can be a minefield. Make sure your employees know what is and is not appropriate behaviour at the office party through your communication channels.Here are some dos & don’ts you can include in your office party announcement:

  • Do not drink to excess. Remember that you are representing your company and you want to make a good impression.
  • Do NOT drink and drive under any circumstances.
  • Do not make sexually suggestive comments or gestures. This includes telling sexual jokes, making lewd comments about someone’s appearance, and so on.
  • Do refrain from getting into arguments with other employees. If you do have a disagreement, try to resolve it in a constructive and professional manner.
  • Do mingle with other employees and get to know them. An office party is a great opportunity to socialize with your coworkers.
  • Dress appropriately.

3. Participation

Many believe that office parties are a necessary part of work life, and that they help to promote team building and morale. However, not everyone enjoys parties, and for some people, they can be a source of anxiety and stress. Others may have family obligations that prevent them from attending if the event is outside of normal business hours. Still others may not believe in celebrating holidays or particular events for personal or religious reasons. For such people, mandatory office party participation can be a problem. Employees should be permitted to opt out of office parties if they so choose.

4. Party Venue

If you’re planning an office party, you may be wondering if you should hold it at your workplace or rent a venue. There are pros and cons to both options, so it’s important to weigh your options carefully before deciding on a location.

If you choose to hold the party at your workplace, you’ll likely save money on rental fees. However, you may need to do some extra cleaning and decorating to make your office party-ready. Additionally, you’ll need to be mindful of the noise level and other disruptions that could occur during business hours. Some things to keep in mind if you’re hosting the party at your workplace include:

  • Make sure you have enough space to accommodate all of your guests.
  • You will need to make food and drinks available.
  • Consider the noise level and make sure it won’t disturb your neighbours or other tenants in your building.
  • You will need to clean up afterwards, so make sure you have enough time and staff to do so.

Renting a venue for your office party can be more expensive, but it can also be a more convenient and safe option. You won’t have to worry about decorating or cleaning, the presence of a licensed bartender (if alcoholic beverages will be available), activities for your guests to enjoy, accessibility for all employees, or the space to accommodate a larger group.

The venue choice ultimately depends on your budget and the size of your office. If you have a small office, it might be easier and more cost-effective to host the party at your workplace. However, if you have a larger office and want to have a more formal party, you might want to consider renting out a venue.

5. Dress Code

When planning an office party, it’s important to consider the dress code you will allow. You want your employees to feel comfortable and stylish, but there also needs to be a level of professionalism. The best way to achieve this is to set a dress code that is business casual which also states the management may make exceptions to the dress code, depending on the event, and that these exceptions will be communicated.

6. Drug and Alcohol Consumption

While alcohol or cannabis can be enjoyed responsibly, there is always the possibility of things getting out of hand at office parties. It is important to inform employees about their rights and responsibilities regarding alcohol or legal drug consumption. It is wise to reiterate that driving while impaired is strictly prohibited, and so is the use of any illegal substance. Smoking is only permitted in approved smoking areas according to provincial guidelines.

To limit alcohol consumption, you can hand out vouchers or drink tickets and instruct the hosts to serve the recommended number of drinks to each guest. Other ideas are to stop serving drinks a few hours before the party ends, and to provide vouchers for taxi or uber services to ensure your employees get home safely. Remember to provide plenty of non-alcoholic options and make sure there are staff members on hand to monitor alcohol consumption and employee safety.

7. Dealing with Harassment and Inappropriate Behaviour

There have been a number of high-profile cases of misconduct at work parties in recent years, so employers need to be aware of the risks and take swift action as soon as an incident is reported. Make sure to listen to both parties and thoroughly investigate all alleged incidents of harassment or other misconduct at the earliest. Make sure your violence and harassment policies are compliant and up to date and then follow them explicitly.It’s a good idea to ensure that you have members of your leadership team who are not indulging in alcoholic beverages or legal substances at the party so that employees feel as if they can come forward with any occurrences.

8. When to End the Office Party?

When planning an office party, it is important to know when to call it quits. The party should not go on too long, as it will start to interfere with work the next day. It is also important to keep the noise level down, so as not to disturb other businesses in the area.If the party is going well and everyone is having a good time, it can be tempting to keep it going. However, an office party is not meant to be an all-night affair. It should be a fun and festive way to celebrate and unwind. If you are providing transport to and from the party, you also need to take steps to ensure your employees’ safety during the journey.

9. Returning to Office

An office party can be a great way to boost morale and show appreciation for your employees. But sometimes, getting everyone back to work after the party can be a challenge. If you’re having trouble getting your employees to focus after an office party, here are a few tips to help get them back on track:

  • Try to schedule the party for a time when it won’t interfere with work. If possible, have the party during lunch or after work hours. This way, your employees can still enjoy themselves without missing out on work time.
  • Make sure the party doesn’t go too late. It’s important to let your employees have a good time, but you don’t want the party to interfere with their sleep schedules. If the party goes too late, your employees may have a hard time getting up for work the next day.
  • Talk to your employees beforehand and set expectations for the party. Make it clear that work still needs to be done the next day and that everyone is expected to be back in the office and ready to work.
  • Encourage employees to pace themselves at the party. Provide non-alcoholic beverages and make sure there is food available so that no one overindulges.
  • The day after the party, check in with employees and see how they’re doing. If someone seems to be struggling, offer them help.

An office holiday party is a time-honoured tradition in many workplaces. For some, it is a much-anticipated annual event; for others, it is a dreaded obligation. No matter what your opinion of office parties may be, they are a reality for many organizations – and with that comes a great level of responsibility for employers to keep their employees physically and mentally safe during and after the party. So lay down the rules and take the pointers in our article into consideration before hosting your party. We hope you have a happy and safe holiday season!