Minimising The Risk Of Alcohol At The Christmas Party

Tuesday 20th December 2022

Christmas parties are perhaps synonymous with a celebratory drink, or two… or three. Almost everyone has a story of boisterous or inappropriate behaviours at a work event, at Christmas or any other time of year. It’s therefore no surprise that work events can come with their own employment law risks, particularly where alcohol is served.

Employers can be found vicariously liable for the actions of employees at work events, even events which take place away from work premises. While it may seem like a great idea to take staff out for a day at the races, to host a summer barbeque, to host Friday night post-work drinks, or a boozy Christmas party, it’s important that employers stop first and consider the potential risks and how to minimise them.

Common risks include employees becoming abusive, aggressive or even violent towards their colleagues or even members of the public after too much to drink. In the worst case scenarios it can also result in sexual misconduct.

Whether or not employers are at risk of being liable for such behaviour depends on how closely linked the behaviour is to the work – the key question is whether the conduct could be said to have occurred in the course of employment. An act doesn’t need to be authorised by the employer for them to be liable and tribunals have frequently interpreted this widely to include a whole range of behaviour, up to and including criminal acts.

Employers have a responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of their employees, and therefore need to consider when planning events whether it is likely to lead to the kind of behaviour that might result in a grievance or police complaint. While banning work events is a solution, it’s unlikely to be popular and work events can act as an incentive as well as being a good way to boost morale.

Options employers may wish to consider include:

  • avoiding open bars. When alcohol is free employees are more likely to drink more, potentially stronger alcohol than they normally would, which naturally raises the risk of inappropriate behaviour. An alternative could be to provide a number of free drink vouchers per employee, with employees paying for any further drinks. When drinks are no longer free employees are less likely to drink to excess.
  • Another option is to appoint ‘responsible individuals’ at work events who supervise staff and can step in when any inappropriate or dangerous behaviour occurs. This helps prevent injuries and reduces the likelihood of staff drinking to dangerous levels.
  • A final option to consider is ensuring that all policies on Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination are up to date. These should be brought to the attention of staff regularly, but particularly ahead of any large work events.
No employer will be able to completely mitigate the risks of alcohol at work events, but by considering the above steps you can minimise the risks. If you have any queries about the above or would like assistance drafting or updating policies please get in touch with a member of the Employment team.