As December arrives, many of us are looking forward to festive celebrations with friends, family and colleagues in the forthcoming weeks. Following last year’s muted or cancelled festivities, understandably, many want to make up for it this year.

However, even before the arrival of the new variant, Omicron, all the signs were that this year’s workplace festivities would be on a smaller scale to those pre-pandemic. By all accounts, organisations have generally been planning more intimate, seated gatherings rather than large events with the potential for crowded bars and dance floors.

Work Christmas parties have long carried a health warning, of course, as too much festive spirit has frequently led to inappropriate behaviour, complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination followed by the inevitable disciplinaries and dismissals. Covid-19 adds a whole new dimension and extra health and safety considerations for those employers contemplating a Christmas party.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are vicariously liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees during the course of their employment unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to prevent such acts. Work parties and events are regarded as being “in the course of employment” for these purposes.

This year, more than ever, many have been hoping to reconnect with old colleagues and meet new ones at the annual Christmas party. After months of working from home many have been feeling cut off and isolated and the work party is an ideal opportunity to reconnect. However, employers should also be sensitive to those who may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of a social gathering, having perhaps got out of the habit of socialising during the pandemic. Employers face a predicament; the desire to spread seasonal goodwill amongst staff with the risk that any gatherings may also spread Covid before Christmas.

With all these considerations in mind and without wishing to be a spoilsport, employers are advised to consider:-

  • Temperature checks and lateral flow tests prior to the event
  • Smaller, seated parties
  • Advise staff of the health and safety measures that will be in place to keep them safe
  • Check the Covid assessment of any venue
  • Send out a statement prior to the event outlining the expectations of your staff and the dangers associated with excessive alcohol consumption
  • Implement a company policy on workplace social events
  • Respond sensitively to any staff who do not wish to attend

At the time of writing, no changes to the rules for social gatherings and hospitality have been announced in light of the new Omicron variant but the Government has said that it will be reviewing the situation in the near future.

More information on current restrictions can be found on the Government site by clicking here

For any advice on Employment Law or HR issues, contact the experts at Premier Legal LLP on 0115 856 1625