13 December 2021 | Comment | Article by Eleanor Bamber

What does a 2021 Christmas party look like?

With the Christmas party season fast approaching, employers are considering their festive plans. Even though the hope is that the 2021 party season will be more open than in 2020, we still have the threat of further restrictions hanging over us. Added to this, the increasing rate of infection means that employees may well be more concerned than usual about attending a packed event.

Whether employers decide to go with a party at an external venue, or hold the party in the workplace, there will be a number of considerations which need to be taken into account. For external venues there will be the issue of whether COVID passports are required which may have the effect of excluding categories of staff who are unvaccinated for reasons which may include religion or belief as well as disability. These are of course protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and being treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic is grounds for a discrimination claim.

Even where an employer decides that it will hold an event at its workplace, a risk assessment should be carried out to ensure that the event is safe to attend, particularly for vulnerable groups of employees. Additional cleaning measures, requirements for lateral flow tests to be provided and social distancing requirements can all assist in reducing the concerns of those attending and, importantly, will help to keep staff safe.

Of course, it must be recognised that many employees will not want to attend a crowded Christmas party wherever this is held and whatever safety measures are put in place. It goes without saying that there should be no pressure placed on any employees to attend a Christmas party, or any detriment suffered by employees (whether directly or indirectly) who decide they would prefer not to take part.

Any workplace event should keep the diversity and differing needs of the workforce in mind to ensure that it is accessible and inclusive to all. It will be important to ensure that catering needs are met for those who do not drink alcohol (which could be for religious reasons) as well as ensuring that menus on offer include vegetarian / vegan options and that meat options do not exclude groups of certain faiths. Consideration should also be given as to whether the party venue is accessible to those with a disability or whether reasonable adjustments need to be made to enable disabled employees to attend or attend more comfortably.

Finally, there should also be a clear reminder to staff that just because it is a “party”, it is not a case of “anything goes”! Even though the line between work and non-work can be blurred, especially where the event is at an external venue, staff need to be reminded that Christmas parties are essentially an extension of the workplace. Harassment, including sexual harassment, is a common problem at Christmas parties where inappropriate behaviour can be fuelled by alcohol. Where expectations have been clearly communicated in advance to staff about the conduct which is acceptable and not considered acceptable at a work event, this will be of assistance later down the line if an employer needs to justify taking disciplinary action in response to behaviour displayed at the party.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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