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Virtual Christmas Parties - Your ‘presents’ is requested

BY Kenzie Howard
Employment Law & HR

The annual tradition of a workplace Christmas or winter party allows people to eat, drink, be merry and celebrate the festive season. For many employers, the Christmas party is a way to say thank you to employees for a year of hard work. Christmas parties are also a useful tool to help staff to bond outside the usual working environment.

This year it is more important to thank your staff for their continued commitment to the organisation as many employees have spent a most of this year working alone, keeping up productivity from their box rooms, sofas and dining tables. In one survey by Mental Health Foundation, nearly a fifth of people said that they feel lonely, and there has been a significant decline in peoples’ ability to cope with the stress of the ongoing pandemic as time wears on.

But how can companies show their appreciation for staff members by throwing a Christmas party in 2020? Technology has been a lifeline for helping colleagues to stay connected and for business to continue running remotely. As such it is likely to take centre stage in many Christmas parties too.

While a normal office Christmas party seems a long way off, there is still an opportunity for employees to have a festive gathering to boost team morale and combat the loneliness that can arise from working at home by holding a virtual Christmas party.

Employers and employees should be mindful, though, of the potential risks arising from inappropriate behaviour which can still occur in a virtual environment. An office Christmas party is treated as an extension of the workplace, even if it is held off-site and outside working hours. Employers, and employees, can remain liable for acts of harassment, unlawful discrimination, or other unwanted conduct.

Employers have a defence if they can show they took all reasonable steps to prevent employees from committing discriminatory acts. Consider the following steps to minimise the risk. Employers can remind staff about acceptable behaviour, avoid putting pressure on or forcing all staff to attend, take care that any entertainment will not offend, consider employees who may not drink alcohol or who have food intolerances, remind staff about social media policies to avoid unflattering photos or remarks made online and deal with any complaints promptly. This should ensure a fun and trouble-free morning, afternoon or night.

While the festive period really isn’t going to be the same this year, there’s still a chance to end the year on a high and bring people together to say thank you for a very, very hard year. And as a bonus, many of your employees will be spared the deadly hangovers the next day!

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