Christmas gatherings: Banter, Covid and other headaches

Posted on: December 1st, 2021

The Christmas season is here and with that comes the excitement (and headaches) of social gatherings (in person and virtually). Given how tough 2020 and 2021 has been due to the pandemic, everyone deserves to relax and have some fun.  However, without wanting to sound like Scrooge, employers should be cautious and think through seasonal party plans to ensure that they do not have an ‘employment law hangover’ in the New Year.

We have included our top considerations below to ensure a good (but safe) festive season:

  1. ‘Elf’ and safety – Covid considerations

Covid unfortunately appears to be here to stay and cases are on the rise again.  Here’s some thoughts on what to think about ahead of any group gatherings:

  • Consider updating risks assessments to cover group gatherings and ensure everyone has read and understood these.
  • Put in place some contingency plans and consider whether to have larger or smaller group gatherings. For example, if employers are planning organisation wide events or team events, what happens if this turns into a ‘super spreader event’.  How will work be covered? We anticipate that in light of these issues, employers are likely to have smaller and more controlled in person gatherings this year as opposed to the organisation wide super party. 
  • If group gatherings do go ahead, have clear rules about contact and covid precautions and ensure that management or senior attendees are enforcing these.
  • Consider compulsory lateral flow testing in the lead up to the event with evidence of negative tests and clear rules around symptoms and non-attendance. However, employers will need to be careful around vaccination status and imposing this on all staff.
  • Also consider how to minimise risk of members of staff coming to the workplace after having attended an external large scale gathering.
  1. Naughty or Nice?

This is also a good time of year to expressly remind staff what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour (and to update disciplinary policies).  This covers in person gatherings and virtual gatherings (where recordings of behaviour can be made and later used!) It also potentially covers gatherings arranged outside of work by members of staff which might be seen an as extension of the workplace. 

Sending a memo to staff and updating policies which sets out expectations around behaviour isn’t going to be popular.  However, behaviour can inadvertently cross a line and land an employer in hot water if it isn’t addressed.  Employers of course hope and trust that employees will act sensibly, however, the excitement of being able to party again, combined with a few drinks could result in unacceptable behaviour or ‘banter’.  We have all seen the news stories recently involving racist language used in the world of cricket and how the allegations were initially labelled as friendly ‘banter’.  This is a ‘defence’ we see used regularly when comments made are inappropriate and subject to disciplinary action and unfortunately simply saying something was ‘banter’ isn’t going to make it ok.  Reminding employees of the rules should help prevent this or at the very least give employers grounds to deal with any issues that do arise. 

Don’t forget to review social media policies to make clear that social media posts shouldn’t damage the reputation of the organisation.  

  1. Merry Christmas Everyone

Review festive plans to ensure that they are inclusive for all staff.  Holding festive gatherings virtually can be a great way to include the whole workforce as they can join in from outside of the workplace and this is a great way to ensure that those that are on family leave, carers leave or other leave remain included.  Also review plans to ensure that they take into account other religious beliefs and celebrations. 

  1. All I want for Christmas is … an appropriate gift

Remind staff to be considerate and careful with secret Santa presents and to avoid any presents that could be seen as derogatory or discriminatory or which might cause offence or constitute harassment on grounds such as gender, race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy.  Now is a great time to deliver some equality and diversity training to help minimise inappropriate behaviour. 

  1. It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Its easy to get lost in the issues that can arise with social events at this time of the year.  However, this time of year can also be exciting, fun and a great moral boost for staff (particularly after a couple of tricky and tough years).  Therefore, don’t forget to embrace the fun side of festivities and encourage team and colleague bonding and a chance to relax.  If your reward strategy includes an annual bonus and you haven’t yet confirmed it, then Christmas could be good time to consider this, if your cash flow allows, or a partial Christmas closure, or a little incentive/gift for staff to say thank you for getting through the tough times.  Obviously we appreciate for many businesses it has been a tough year so it may not be possible but worth considering if it is.

Ultimately, balancing the above considerations whilst maintaining staff moral can be tough and it is a balancing act.  However, getting it right should help ensure a safe and low risk Christmas period and help to avoid the January blues.

Please do contact us if you would like assistance with updating policies and/or handling communications to staff to ensure you have a great festive period.