The annual staff Christmas party is a good way to show your staff how much you appreciate them and is also a great opportunity for employees to bond and build relationships outside of the work environment. It shows that you care about their health and wellbeing and gives everyone a chance to relax and have fun.

If the party is held on a weeknight, it is important to set out clearly what is expected of the employees the following day at work. Many may be tempted to have a longer lie-in and turn off the alarm and some will arrive at work feeling a little worse for wear after a night of partying, but what should a business do if staff arrive to work late or don’t attend at all?

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What should businesses do about unauthorised absences?

Businesses could impose penalties such as deductions from pay, if employees arrive late. Any unauthorised absences could be seen as misconduct and dealt with via a disciplinary procedure. If an employee claims to be ill, the employer could choose to investigate whether this is a genuine case of sickness or just a hangover, in which case it could be treated as misconduct. It would, however, be a difficult and time-consuming process for the HR department to gather enough evidence to prove the absence was not genuine.

Take a consistent approach

If employers do decide to issue sanctions, they must ensure they are consistent in their approach. In the case of Westlake V ZSL London Zoo, two employees who had got into a fight at a Christmas party were treated differently. One was fired whilst the other was given a final written warning. This ended up at a tribunal, where the employee won their constructive dismissal claim because they had been dealt with more harshly than the other employee involved. If employers do issue different sanctions, they must be certain that there is justification for this.

Act on allegations of misconduct quickly

It is also important to take allegations of misconduct as seriously as you would at any other time. If there was an incident at the office Christmas party, employers need to take action on this quickly, especially if a complaint has been made. One Cardiff nightclub was taken to a tribunal by an employee who was assaulted at an office Christmas party. The business failed to investigate and the employee who was assaulted felt forced to resign after hearing the directors of the company joking about the incident. Their constructive dismissal claim was successful and the tribunal found in favour of the employee. More information on this case is available in this BBC article. The employer has a duty of care to look after the well-being of their staff attending work events and must keep in mind what could be considered an extension of the workplace.

How to keep spirits high

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To boost motivation and keep morale high, businesses could allow staff to start work a little later than usual or offer an extra break. If remote working is a possibility, this could be another option to explore. Have plenty of Berocca and coffee available and perhaps even offer complimentary breakfast to continue the festive cheer!

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