March 6

Flexible working: what you need to know ahead of the rules.

The extensions to current legislation on flexible working are due later this year, giving more employees with service of six months or more rights to request flexible working.

The new legislation will require employers to consider requests for greater flexibility in terms of hours, times and location from a greater proportion of their workforce, which means employers will need to be prepared.

Historically, flexible working legislation was intended mainly for childcare, and later broadened out to allow for other types of care. Employers have not found these rules too onerous but some fear challenges when the reasons for the requests become more diverse, such as for religious observance and lifestyle choice.

The new laws need not be such a cause for worry, however. With some planning it should be possible to turn a regulatory requirement into an opportunity to create positive cultural changes throughout your organisation.

Here are some tips on how to plan for the new rules:

1. Don’t panic. You have most of the knowledge and skills to handle these changes, you just need to change your mind set and think about context. The requests that staff make (changes to hours, times, locations) will be no different – it’s their reasons that may differ.

2. Review policy and process. This is an opportunity to make your process more user-friendly for both sides. The tight response times will disappear, replaced by a principle-based system that makes the rules easier.

3. Take the opportunity to refresh knowledge. Everyone will need to be up to speed on the circumstances in which the right to request flexible working will apply. There are eight reasons why a flexible working request might not be granted because it is not appropriate for your business:
Planned structural changes
Burden of additional costs
Detrimental impact on quality
Inability to recruit additional staff
Detrimental impact on performance
Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer (or client) demand
Insufficient work during the periods the employee proposes to work.
These, plus how the indirect discrimination rules relate to them, need to be clear to all.

4. Think broadly. Ask all concerned to think about the broader impact of more flexible working in your organisation. For example, any data security risks that come with more people accessing company systems from away from the office. Do you have a remote working policy in place?

5. Be balanced. Think about both the benefits and the challenges of better work-life balance. There will be a positive effect on morale, but managers may need coaching to adapt their management style to the differences between managing a present team and a distributed one, or a team that work different hours from one another.

The new flexible working rules may support initiatives to improve workplace culture and help to create a great place to work. If there is one disadvantage to the current system, it is that it favours only one element of the workforce (those with family and care commitments). The new laws will solve that problem by including everybody, so this is an opportunity to do more than just demonstrate compliance.

February 10

Ten top tips for keeping employees engaged through change.

When an organisation experiences change it can be tough to retain a culture that evolves and embraces everyone. Ten top tips for successfully managing change and engaging staff during these times are:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication really does matter if you want to win the hearts and minds of your team and encourage people to get behind the change. By communicating openly with employees, not only can you reassure them where possible, you can ensure that they are the first to know about the change before it happens. It also provides them with an opportunity to feed into the process to help make the change work.

2. Lead from the front
Great leaders are great communicators who know how to unite everyone and inspire confidence in the change as well as the process itself. By practicing what they preach, leaders will gain trust and respect from their employees as they drive the change forward.

3. Set expectations
An honest conversation with employees of exactly what will change is essential, whilst having empathy for their personal feelings or circumstances. People prefer to know what to expect so be clear on why the change is taking place and the expected time frame.

4. Actively listen
People need to know you are listening to them and really taking their thoughts into consideration. In so doing you will pick up some very valid points that could help you implement change more smoothly, overcome any issues or even uncover ideas to make the change even more successful.

5. Act on feedback
Once you have taken on board the feedback you must take action and deliver on your promises (or explain why it is not possible to do so). Sometimes the seemingly minor things can make a real difference to people so it is important not to overlook this as it can have an immensely positive impact.

6. Engage and collaborate
When employees feel included in the change process and have an opportunity to participate, it encourages everyone to take ownership. Collaboration can open up immense creativity and a true sense of camaraderie and teamwork that propels everyone through the change, all pulling in the same direction.

7. Identify willing ambassadors
If you have successfully communicated the change and collaborated with your employees it should be easier to attract ambassadors to help drive the change within the organisation. Getting the right people on board who are natural leaders within the team can really impact success and encourage others to get involved as understanding throughout the workforce grows and gains momentum.

8. Build relationships
Business is all about fostering great relationships – and this is really imperative in times of change. Be inclusive, find out what excites and motivates people. Strong relationships help people feel part of the organisation and feel invested in its future.

9. Take a systems approach
As a business grows rapidly, it can often become more complex. This means that frameworks, processes, and systems need to be addressed before the change takes place, along with a plan of how it will be managed. This will help to minimise any impact on performance due to new ways of working and ensure that the change is sustainable in the long term.

10. Value your people
People really are an organisation’s most valuable asset so look for every opportunity to inspire, motivate and make change a positive experience. Think about new ways to reward employees, make small gestures that show you appreciate their input and develop their skills by offering them new projects to work on. Being creative and agile in your approach is the best way of achieving lasting change that yields big results.

January 14

How to meet duty of care responsibilities for employees working abroad.

Responsibilities to protect the health, safety and security of employees working abroad continue to grow in complexity and importance and yet there is a lack of awareness of the full extent of organisations’ duty of care towards business travellers.

Organisations that operate or seek new opportunities in overseas markets will usually experience a higher frequency of travel among employees. Despite the current focus on controlling costs, organisations are forging ahead with essential business travel, often sending employees to unfamiliar locations where they may encounter situations that present increased risk and threats to their health, safety and security.

In the past year, more than 3.5 million international trips were made by employees, a quarter of which were to high or extreme risk destinations. Threats such as terrorism, natural disasters, infectious diseases, crime and political instability increase the risk to the business traveller and therefore the potential liability of the employer. As workforces become increasingly mobile, fulfilling duty of care can seem like an overwhelming task for a business, but it does not have to be. The key to providing adequate duty of care is to demonstrate that steps have been taken to identify and assess all foreseeable risks and negate these through a comprehensive risk management strategy.

Understanding the duty of care responsibilities of the employer
The initial stage of fulfilling duty of care is to become familiar with the travel needs of the employee, the duty of care requirements and the policies and procedures organisations can put in place to ensure these requirements are met. For example, one important requirement is to undertake an assessment of the foreseeable risks associated with a particular location, and to ensure this assessment is credible and documented. The employer should then educate the employee about the environment they are going to and inform them of their responsibilities when travelling on company business.

Senior management and inter-departmental buy-in
Too often, duty of care does not sit neatly within one department in an organisation. The challenge is to understand how departmental responsibilities – such as travel, legal, insurance, procurement, business continuity, occupational health and HR – fit together in order to fulfil duty of care obligations.

Building a strong business case
The next stage is therefore to build a solid business case for justifying the development of an all-encompassing duty of care strategy. The business case can be divided into two categories, the carrot and the stick.
The ‘carrot’ relates to the cost-benefit components of implementing a comprehensive duty of care strategy. The carrot is business continuity, reduced costs for avoidable expenses like medical care, evacuation, productivity loss and damages resulting from liability. In the most simplistic sense, the old adage that prevention is better and less costly than the cure is applicable here. Implementing good risk management strategies also helps to protect the reputation and brand of the organisation for recruitment and retention purposes and to improve employee wellbeing and productivity by avoiding illness or injury.
The ‘stick’ is meeting legal compliance and reducing or avoiding negligence and liability. The UK has developed legislation and derivative case laws that reflect employers’ expanded duty of care responsibilities, and courts are increasingly favouring employees.
Implementing risk management policies and procedures
The final step is to develop a comprehensive travel risk management plan. Acknowledging that it is impossible to predict exactly when crises will occur, the integrated risk management approach to duty of care emphasises the importance of being prepared and having plans in place for when things go wrong. It is essential that all foreseeable risks are assessed, communicated to the employee and incorporated into the risk management strategy.

If an organisation can demonstrate that steps have been taken to assess the risks and inform, update and assist the travelling employee, then it is on the road to fulfilling its duty of care obligations.

November 1

Who owns the LinkedIn contacts . . . employer or employee?

The use of online social networking in the workplace has increased dramatically in recent years, in particular through the use of LinkedIn accounts by employees to maintain lists of contacts made during their working lives. The question is raised as to whether the employer or the employee owns the LinkedIn contact lists that have been created in the course of employment. Further, whether an employer can insist on the return of such contact lists when an employee leaves a company.

Due to the terms and conditions of LinkedIn, ownership of a user account itself (provided it is in an employee’s own name) remains at all times with the employee and an employer cannot force the employee to transfer their account or disclose their username and password to them. The key question is therefore whether a LinkedIn contact list created in the course of employment constitutes ‘confidential information’ (ie. equivalent to a trade secret) and therefore owned by the employer.

Observations by judges in relevant cases suggest that basic data which is in the public domain such as the name of a client company, its head office address and contact telephone number do not amount to the equivalent of trade secrets. However, individuals’ direct dial telephone numbers and email addresses are quite likely to be treated as confidential, protected by the law of confidentiality and may not be disclosed or used by the employee without employer authorisation.

The usual breach of confidentiality occurs towards the end of an employment when an employee prints off or emails to himself a list of the employer’s contacts contained on the employer’s computer systems. The situation with LinkedIn is different because the employee has obtained confidential information in the course of his employment for the purpose of his employment. His employer has permitted him to do this and there is no question that he has obtained the information by any underhand means. If the employer has let the employee have the information can he take it back?

The English courts have already decided that where an employee keeps all his contacts (including his own contacts that pre-existed his employment) in his employer’s Outlook system, backed up on the employer’s server, the Outlook contact list will belong to the employer. However, a LinkedIn account is provided directly to the employee by LinkedIn and is hosted on LinkedIn servers therefore the Outlook case law is not directly applicable. Only one reported English case has touched on the ownership of confidential employer contacts migrated by an employee into LinkedIn.

In this case the Court held that even if the employer had authorised the employee to extract its confidential information and use it on LinkedIn, it had only given such authorisation for the purposes of the employment. By extension the argument follows that, just as with physical address books (or other hard copy lists), the contact details should be handed back to the employer at the end of the employment. In the context of LinkedIn this can only be achieved by the employee deleting the relevant connections from his LinkedIn profile.

Employees believe that the LinkedIn connections form part of their stock of knowledge that they are entitled by law to take with them throughout their career. There is presently no sign that the English courts will agree with this argument though and employers are advised to have up to date social media and confidentiality policies which clearly identify what LinkedIn information belongs to whom. Employees who have managed to build up extensive LinkedIn accounts would be wise to negotiate clear terms relating to their contact network before accepting new offers of employment.

July 22

Zero hours casual contracts are not the only option.

The Government is to review the use of controversial ‘zero-hours’ contracts under which staff are put on standby and not guaranteed a minimum amount of work. The concern is that these contracts are now widely used but relatively little is known about their effect on employers and staff. Whilst it is important that the workforce enjoy flexibility, it is equally important that it is treated fairly.
Staff employed under zero-hours contracts are mainly casual workers rather than employees, and the defining feature generally is the absence of mutuality of obligation. In practice, this means staff can be given extra hours when it’s busy but see their shifts cut to zero when it’s quiet. In most cases staff are expected to be available for work but can legally turn down a shift if they don’t need it.
It also means, given that people employed under zero-hours contracts are usually workers, that these staff enjoy far less rights than if they were employees under a contract of employment; most notably they have no right to a notice period on termination of the contract, nor any protection against unfair dismissal, nor do they enjoy any of the family friendly rights.
While zero-hours contracts are, therefore, at least currently, a legitimate means of providing flexibility, it is important for employers to note that they are not the only option.
Permanent employment contracts can also provide all the flexibility of a zero-hours contract and still give certainty concerning employment status for both parties and offer greater employment rights for the member of staff. The way that this flexibility can be achieved is by including appropriate provisions which could include:
a ‘casual employee clause’ being incorporated within the employment contract
job descriptions being non-contractual to allow for changes
flexibility, mobility and variation clauses being included in the contract itself
A more flexible permanent contract containing these types of provisions means that the member of staff will be an employee, rather than a worker. Thus, as employees, they do then have the same rights and entitlements as permanent members of staff – the only difference is that there are no guarantees on the minimum number of hours’ work that they will be offered.

In today’s economic climate, it isn’t viable for employers to employ all staff on permanent contracts with set hours, and that’s why ‘zero-hours’ contracts have become more popular. As long as the employer has well-managed systems in place to support this type of contract, there is no reason why they can’t work for everyone. Employers also need to be more proactive about communicating the terms and conditions of such contracts at the outset to ensure employees understand their rights and what is expected of them.

June 12

The complexities of annual leave and sickness absence.

As we approach the time of year when most employees may be hoping to take annual leave, it is worth considering the increasingly complex interaction between annual leave entitlement and long term sickness absence. Whilst straightforward, definitive answers would be much appreciated by employers and workers alike, the UK and EU case law in this area is becoming diverse and, regrettably, contradictory.
The European case of Stringer held that if a worker is absent due to ill health he or she will still accrue annual leave. That is a very clear message to employers. However, it is not without complication because it is unclear how much annual leave will accrue. Is it the full 5.6 weeks of paid leave a year (which UK workers enjoy and which equates to 28 days for a full time employee working 5 days a week) or, as per EU legislation, only a 4 week entitlement to paid leave?
Perhaps happily for employers, the courts confirmed that workers on long term sick leave are only entitled to carry over up to 4 weeks’ accrued but untaken holiday entitlement.
The law has further clarified that absent workers are entitled to this accrued but untaken leave regardless of whether or not the worker has asked to take holiday during that period of sick leave. Prior to this, it had been thought that in order to benefit the worker had to have formally requested the holiday – this is now not the case.
A further issue that has been before the courts is the question of when the accrued holiday can be taken by the worker. The options currently open to the employer are:
workers on long term sick leave must be entitled to take (and be paid for) any accrued annual leave during their time on sick leave – although the employer cannot insist that they do
workers absent for less than a year should be encouraged to take their outstanding annual leave on their return to work before the holiday year expires
·if there is insufficient time left in the leave year to enable them to take their accrued leave they should be allowed to carry this leave forward into the next leave year
an indefinite period of carry-over would become financially punitive for an employer but as yet there is no UK authority on how long a worker can carry over annual leave accrued during sickness absence – EU courts have ruled that 15 months after the end of the relevant leave year is reasonable and so it has been deemed safe to assume that sick workers should be allowed to carry over unused annual leave entitlement for a period substantially longer than the reference period in which the holiday accrued.
Employers may only pay workers in lieu of their annual leave entitlement on termination of their contract. It is important to remember that if a worker’s employment ends before having had the opportunity to take the annual leave entitlement due to sickness, the worker is entitled to a payment in lieu at the normal rate of pay for all the accrued leave including that which is carried over.

A further point to note is that if a worker has a prearranged period of annual leave and then falls sick, the worker is allowed to take their annual leave at a later date – even if this involves carrying it over to the following leave year.

However, an employer is entitled to ask for medical evidence of unfitness for work (over and above self-certification) if sickness occurs during a holiday. As it is an unusual situation, employers should make clear this applies regardless of how long the sickness lasts.

As is clearly demonstrated, this is a changeable area of employment law and until we secure further clarification from the national courts a degree of uncertainty will remain in certain areas. In the meantime, to minimise the risk of any challenge, employers need to be able to show that they have taken a reasonable and consistent approach to the various issues around sickness and annual leave set out in this note.

June 4

Employers already meeting the majority of flexible working requests ahead of the change to the law next year.

The law as it stands allows for parents of children aged 16 or under, or disabled children under the age of 18, to apply to their employer to work more flexibly if they have worked for 26 weeks continuously at the date that the application is made.

However, the right to request flexible working is to be made more accessible with the advent of Government proposals in 2014, which:

  • extend the right to request flexible working to all employees (not just those with parental responsibility for a child, or caring responsibilities for an adult);
  • replace the current ‘right to request’ procedure with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a ‘reasonable’ period of time;
  • create a statutory code of practice to give guidance on the meaning of ‘reasonable’ to employers; and
  • provide guidance to employers on how to prioritise conflicting requests that are received at the same time.

The 26-week qualifying period for employees to make a request for flexible working will be retained, as will the restriction that means that employees can make only one flexible working request in any 12-month period.

According to research carried out over the last six months by XpertHR, eight out of ten employers already agree to the majority of flexible working requests from employees – both with and without children. This is clearly well before the Government’s extension, thus demonstrating that employers are not only well prepared for the forthcoming legal change but also recognise the benefit in allowing their employees as much flexibility as possible within their working week. The most common flexible working arrangements were found to be part-time hours, flexitime and staggered hours but there are many kinds of flexible working, as follows:

  • part-time working
  • flexi-time – employees may be required to work within essential periods but outside ‘core times’ they often get flexibility in how they work their hours
  • job-sharing
  • working from home
  • term-time working
  • staggered hours – different start and finish times as a way of covering longer opening hours
  • annual hours – the hours an employee works over a whole year are calculated and usually split into ‘set shifts’ and ‘reserve shifts’ which are worked as the demand dictates
  • compressed working hours – employees work their total agreed hours over fewer working days
  • shift-working – widespread in industries which must run on a 24-hour cycle.

Flexible working is not without its issues, however, and the research also explored the difficulties faced by employers when trying to implement an effective flexible working policy – most commonly in the following areas:

  • complexity of scheduling working hours
  • difficulty arranging meetings
  • resentment from employees not working flexibly
  • internal communication difficulties
  • difficulty arranging training

However, these potential problems do not seem to have put employers off. The advantages to implementing such measures will be more motivated employees. Flexible working is not about creating a feel-good factor in the workplace: it’s about boosting the bottom line. Flexible working is part of good management practice. Although the statutory right to request flexible working has helped to popularise the idea, many businesses have adopted flexible working arrangements because it makes good business sense.

February 13

Valentine’s Day . . . dealing with office romances.

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and the subject of office romances may be on the mind of many employers. The increasing tendency to spend long hours in the office and to meet partners later in life, means that office romances are on the cards for many. According to various surveys more than 50% of UK employees have at some point dated somebody they work with.

Legal issues to be aware of:
Sex discrimination – if two employees are having a relationship and for that reason the more junior female employee is asked to move teams or, if two employees stop having a relationship and the more senior male employee subjects the more junior female partner to detriment (ie not promoting her), as a result.
Sexual harassment claims – if feelings are not reciprocated by one person, or a relationship breaks up and one party is still attempting to win their former partner back. These claims can relate to the harassment itself, such as any unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature or unwelcome sexual advances or sending e-mails or other messages with material of a sexual nature.
Victimisation – if an employee reports an unwanted sexual advance to the employer and is then subjected to a detriment, for example dismissal or not receiving a pay rise or bonus.

Non-legal issues to be aware of:
Conflicts – relationships at work can give rise to conflicts of interest – for example, an employee and their line manager are in a relationship and the conflicts which could arise could include matters such as appraisal scoring, remuneration, work allocation, and promotion.
Confidential information – companies may be concerned that employees in a relationship with one another are sharing information which may not be appropriate, such as management plans for the workforce, or in relation to businesses where employees have access to inside information.

How the employer can protect itself:
Update your discrimination and harassment policies and provide training to employees – make sure that you have properly informed employees about the type of behaviour which is considered inappropriate.
Consider imposing an obligation to report relationships to the employer – so that the employer can consider potential conflicts and potentially transfer one of the parties, if necessary.
Consider banning relationships with co-workers – there is some risk that employees could claim that this sort of ban is contrary to their right to privacy and family life; a less extreme alternative might be to urge employees to exercise discretion in particular where there is a professional conflict of interest.
Consider possible discrimination issues when a relationship is reported – it is important to deal sensitively with relationships – for example although the natural conclusion may seem to be to move the more junior employee, this may constitute sex discrimination and so it is important to be alive to the issues and to seek legal advice if you are in doubt.

January 4

Workplace stress and how to deal with it.

Around one in five people suffer from workplace stress in the UK with half a million reporting illness as a result of job-related pressures. Stress and stress-related illnesses such as depression are among the most challenging issues for employers and a failure to address them properly can leave you exposed to constructive dismissal, negligence and disability discrimination claims. Whilst there is no specific law that deals with workplace stress, employers are obliged by law to be responsible for employee health and safety in the workplace – and managing workplace stress is considered an area of that responsibility.

Many factors can cause stress at work but common triggers are overwork, job insecurity, over-promotion, lack of training, bad working relationships, bullying and harassment, change and personal issues. Understanding what is causing an employee to be stressed is key to managing it.

Talk to your employee

As soon as you have been alerted to a potential issue, you should meet with the employee, discuss the problem and work with him to identify possible solutions. You may also wish to speak to managers and colleagues to understand the situation more fully.

Take action
• Stress caused by genuine overwork: try to identify ways to reduce that workload, by reassigning duties on a temporary or permanent basis or providing additional resources. Do remember to consult with the employee before taking a decision to reassign part of their duties, as doing so unilaterally could give grounds for a constructive dismissal claim.
• Stress caused by difficult working relationships: steps should be taken to try to resolve those relationship issues, through workplace counselling or reallocation of duties.
• Stress due to personal issues: it might be appropriate to consider allowing a short period of unpaid leave or a temporary period of flexible working.

Seek medical opinion

However sceptical the employer is, it is always advisable to consider seeking a medical assessment particularly where the employee has a stress-related illness, such as depression – note that the complaint can be genuine even if the trigger seems objectively pretty trivial. The doctor should assess the employee’s current state of health, the causes of the problem, and any recommended steps to address the situation. Any recommendations that are reasonably practicable should be implemented. If a recommendation is not feasible, make a note of why.
Reasonable adjustments

Where an employee’s stress or depression renders him ‘disabled’ for the purposes of the Equality Act, you will then be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage suffered as a result of the ‘disability’. A failure to do so will constitute disability discrimination. Advice from a doctor as to possible adjustments will be particularly important as a tribunal will scrutinize the extent to which you comply with any recommendations.
Return to work

When the employee returns to work, you should meet with him to clarify your understanding of his current state of health and to talk about any temporary or permanent adjustments in place to facilitate his return. Make notes so there is no confusion later as to what was agreed.

Communication throughout absence

Regular communication must be maintained with an absent employee claiming workplace stress – an employee who is too unwell to work is not necessarily incapable of communicating with their employer. You may have to consider offering to go to their house to discuss the situation instead or ask them to set out their concerns in writing. In all cases, whether a complaint of stress or a full-blown grievance, the employee should be asked what steps he believes should be taken to address the situation, but the employer is not bound by replies.

Dismissing a stressed employee

You should make reasonable efforts to assist an employee who is off with stress, but there may come a point when you have to consider dismissing him due to continued inability to perform the role. Any dismissal must be handled sensitively and carefully to avoid claims of unfair dismissal and disability discrimination, as follows:

• Obtain an up-to-date medical assessment of the employee’s state of health in order to understand the prognosis and the type of work he might be able to do in the short term;
• Consider any alternative roles before dismissing;
• The employee should be given the opportunity to discuss the proposed dismissal and comment on the employer’s assessment of his state of health and ability to work.

• Whether or not the illness is claimed (or even proven) to be your fault, continued incapability can still be a fair reason for a dismissal.

December 24

“Bah, humbug!” Or, a good time to be had by all . . .

Christmas lights have been switched on, decorations are up, seasonal adverts are on the television and Slade is blasted out all over! Employees will by now know what format their Christmas party is going to take – employers often dread it because it hits their pockets and they are often left to deal with the various issues that arise out of it. By knowing the risks and taking steps to reduce them, employers can ensure it is a harmonious event for all.
Employers are liable for the acts of their employees that are performed in the ‘course of their employment.’ The conduct of staff members at an office party is generally considered to be in the course of their employment, even if the party takes place away from the company’s premises and outside of working hours. Managers are therefore still responsible for the conduct of their staff and should ensure that they are aware of the level of behaviour expected of them and that employment policies that apply during working hours still apply to the party. Employers should ensure that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent misconduct; a sensible starting point is to dismiss, from the outset, the notion that ‘anything goes’ at the Christmas party.
It is worth noting that employers are also responsible for the actions of third parties – namely entertainers or after dinner speakers. Employers need to warn their entertainers as to what is not acceptable in the same way they would their own staff.
Employers should have in place a fair procedure to consider any complaints from employees and employees should be reminded of the procedure in advance of the party. Any failure to deal with a grievance properly and in accordance with the company’s procedures may result in a claim to the employment tribunal, whether on the grounds of discrimination, harassment or a breach of contract.
Many of the issues that arise from Christmas parties stem from employees drinking too much. If employees are expected to come into work the following day, they need to be aware that they can be disciplined for any unauthorised absence. That said, if they are expected to return to work immediately after an event and alcohol has been provided by the employer, it may be unfair to dismiss an employee by reason of misconduct due to the fact that the employee is under the influence. Encouraging or condoning consumption of alcohol during the party will be a mitigating factor if the matter is taken to an employment tribunal. Ensuring that sufficient non-alcoholic beverages are available to those under eighteen, and those not wishing to have alcohol, especially if this is on religious grounds, will help to avoid causing offence and encourage sensible drinking. Focusing the party around a meal or entertainment rather than the provision of drinks will ensure that those who do not drink alcohol feel included.
Keep in mind that an employer’s duty of care extends beyond the Christmas party, and as such employers should not allow anyone who has consumed alcohol to drive when leaving the party – you may want to provide contacts numbers for local taxis or provide buses or coaches to take them home.
It is important to consider whether reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that on every level the party caters for all employees – such as the venue, the food, and the entertainment. As such, employers should be sure to book suitable entertainment which will not include any comments that may be deemed as discriminatory or harassment. Meat-free options should be provided for vegetarians and those with restricted diets due to their religion, and every effort should be made to ensure the venue is accessible for any employee with a disability.
The most important thing is to ensure that all staff enjoy themselves without overstepping these boundaries, and that all employees feel included in the festivities regardless of their religious beliefs. Ensuring that the risks have been considered and prepared for, and that there are suitable policies and procedures in place, will leave employers free to enjoy the party rather than worry about what the following day may bring.

The second most important thing is to ensure that the fine line between sowing a seed of sensibility and being a kill joy is trodden carefully!

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