Avoid an HR Hangover This Christmas 2023

He’s Making a List…..He’s Checking it Twice…..but at this year’s Office Christmas party will YOUR staff be naughty or will they be nice?

It might only be the beginning of November, but many employers are already planning this year’s Christmas party and they are no doubt hopeful that this festive season will be an enjoyable time for bosses and employees alike but be warned – without careful planning, employers could easily end up with a costly HR Hangover!

Free flowing alcohol at the annual office Christmas party often acts as a trigger for some less than jolly employee behaviour leaving business owners/managers with a less than festive HR hangover to cope with.

Common issues Employers often have to deal with after the office Christmas party include gross misconduct (usually the result of a festive punch up), claims of bullying, harassment or even discrimination (sex, age, race, religious).

So here are Employment Law Services (ELS)’ “’Top Tips” to help Employers avoid an HR hangover by steering their company sleigh around the traditional Christmas HR landmines:

  1. Ensure all employees are aware of the company’s standard disciplinary and grievance procedures.
  2. If staff are expected to come in the day after the office party, make sure this has been clearly communicated to them beforehand
  3. At the office party, ensure all employees are catered for regardless of their age, sex, sexual orientation, religion or disability.
  4. Lastly, consider providing transportation from the party venue to ensure staff arrive home safely.

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to review your Company’s existing discipline & grievance policy to make sure it is up to date with current legislation and the ACAS Code of Conduct and if you have any specific queries regarding employment issues Contact Us  and our multi-award winning Employment Law and HR Team will provide you with commercially focused advice and support.



An employer’s guide to Christmas bonuses

One question often asked by employers at this time of year is whether they are obliged to pay its employees a Christmas bonus if they have done so in earlier years.

Are employers legally obliged to pay their staff a Christmas bonus?

Each case is different – In the first instance, employers should check the documentation that forms the employment relationship, i.e., the contract of employment, employee handbook, offer letters etc.

In the event that the employment documentation states that the employee will receive a bonus at Christmas, the employer must do so accordingly. Should the employer fail to provide its employee with a Christmas bonus in this instance, he/she will be in breach of contract. For example, the employee’s contract/handbook states that on Christmas Eve they will receive an additional week’s wage, then the employee can expect to receive this on the 24th of December each year.

What if the contract is silent?

The employer should then proceed with checking over the employee handbook and company policy. For example, there is a company policy that states employees will receive a Christmas bonus if certain targets are achieved or if the business does especially well that year.

If the handbook/policy do not form the employment relationship, then it is usually at the employer’s discretion whether staff get a bonus at Christmas time or not. Employers should approach Christmas bonuses with caution and review the exact wording to confirm they are discretionary and not contractual.

Can an employer withhold a bonus?

If the provisions of a discretionary bonus scheme are clearly set out an employer can withhold the bonus as long as he is not acting irrational on doing so.

In contrast to this, if a bonus has been agreed to under contract and is not paid, despite the criteria being achieved, an employee may then apply to the Employment Tribunal for unlawful deduction of wages. When setting out the criteria for a bonus, it is important that expectations are not discriminatory.

Get the written documents right

If an employer wishes to ensure they are not legally obliged to pay its staff a Christmas bonus every year then they must make it clear from the start that bonuses will be paid at the employer’s discretion, every situation should be considered on facts. It is therefore recommended that employers seek legal advice before embarking on any action.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.  You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.

An employer’s guide to the party season

Christmas party season is almost in full swing and with it comes the likelihood of a workplace claim as the result of inappropriate conduct.

At Employment Law Services (ELS), we strongly advise that employers are aware of their legal obligations to their employees.

Inviting your staff

In the first instance, it should not be made a requirement that all staff attend the office party. It is important to keep in mind that Christmas is a Christian holiday, thus, an employee should not be pressurised into attending the event if they do not want to on the grounds of religion. In addition, if the party is out of working hours employers should bear in mind some people will have family obligations that may stop them from attending.

Further, employers should ensure that all employees are invited to the Christmas party, this includes employees off on maternity leave, paternity leave and sick leave. Employers will expose themselves to complaints of discrimination should they fail to invite all employees.

Christmas party policies

Alcohol fuelled behaviour is at the root of several Employment Tribunal claims every year. It is important to note; the Christmas party is still a work-related activity. Employers should therefore inform their employees that excessive alcohol consumption, violence and other forms of unwanted behaviour will not be tolerated. All employees should be made aware of the disciplinary procedures that will result from such behaviour.

Tis the season!

To minimise the risk of employees getting too drunk at office parties, it is recommended that employers limit the amount of free alcohol, provide non-alcoholic alternatives and ensure there is enough food to balance it all out.

Bullying, harassment and discrimination

An employer can still be held liable for its employees if the misconduct happened out of working hours – what one may believe to be banter could be taken completely different from the person on the receiving end.

One case that highlights the severity of this, involved a city solicitor stating in public that his colleague had “great cleavage” and “great baps” – these comments were made at the office Christmas party and ended being settled in the Employment Tribunal for £1m!!!!!!

Making promises

At EmployEasily, our advice is do not discuss salaries, promotions or remuneration with employees whilst under the influence!

This was seen in the case of Judge v Crown Leisure Limited – in which the employee claimed his employer promised him a wage increase during conversation at the office Christmas party. On returning to work his wages remained the same. It was at this point the employee resigned and took his employers to the Employment Tribunal claiming constructive dismissal on the grounds that his employer had broken a contractual promise.

However, in this event the EAT established that the promise was too vague and therefore did not amount to a binding contract. Employers should bear in mind that for a contract to be binding it does not always need to be in writing, and in this case, it could have easily gone in the employee’s favour. Employers should not assume that because it has been said at a social event that it cannot be intended to create legally binding commitments.

Social media

The growing use of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram add another risk associated with the office party that employers should acknowledge.

Employers should reiterate to all employees the businesses social media policy and the consequences of posting pictures online that may damage the company’s reputation or breach another colleagues right to privacy. Our specialist consultants can offer advice and guidance on social media laws for employers.

The morning after the night before

It is up to each individual employer on how they approach the day after the office party, in regard to employee lateness/not showing up at all.

However, all employees should be aware that absence and lateness will be monitored and disciplinary action may be taken if they fail to turn up to work because of a hangover.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.  You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.

Please note, the information in this article is for guidance purposes only and it is therefore advised that employers seek legal advice before embarking on any enforcement action.