How to handle the HR fallout from the office Christmas Party

January 5, 2023

As the festive season draws firmly to a close and the new year is upon us, sadly many organisations will be left dealing with the HR repercussions from their seasonal celebrations.  The HR fallout from the office Christmas party can leave you mopping up investigations and needing to take serious action long after the party hats and crackers are in the bin.

From fighting, to poor taste jokes, sexual harassment allegations and inappropriate behaviour – a recent CIPD report shows that 1 in 10 workers know someone facing dismissal or disciplinary action following their behaviour at the company Christmas party.

The report highlighted the following common reasons for disciplinary action;

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Uh-oh – here comes the “stop fun” police

While everyone wants employees to have the chance to let down their hair and celebrate, if your company does organise a work event it is worth remembering that the activities that take place during that event are not exempt from your legal liabilities as an employer.

HR teams want to have fun too but all-too-often get the reputation of a Grinch when needing to remind colleagues of the behavioural standards they should meet – at all times, not just in normal work hours.  HR professionals and business leaders need to balance the desire to have fun and relax with the requirement to re-enforce their expectations when it comes to employee conduct.

But why are employers liable for actions outside of work?

Sexual advances, physical or verbal aggression and discrimination are unacceptable at any time – so why do organisations end up facing the brunt of these actions?

Events such as employer-organised Christmas parties can genuinely be classed as an extension of employment and, as such, employers would become vicariously liable for any incidents caused by employees at such events.  This is in the same way they are liable for employees’ actions whilst at work, covered by Section 109 of the Equality Act 2010.

Prevention is the best medicine

The best way to avoid dealing with the HR fallout from the office Christmas party is to set clear guidelines and remind colleagues ahead of the event of their requirement to always behave in an appropriate manner and importantly, to respect other people’s boundaries.

A good idea would also be to gently, but firmly, remind colleagues well in advance of the occasion that any inappropriate behaviour at such events will be dealt with in the same way as if they were at their normal place of work.

In the same way as discrimination or harassment happening whilst employees are at work, showing you have taken reasonable steps as an employer to prevent this type of behaviour before it occurs is a must.

If it is your job to organise the Big Bash, also consider details such as the food and drink options to ensure they are fully inclusive of all employees’ dietary restrictions and that the venue doesn’t prevent certain employees from attending such as poor access or a lack of proper disabled facilities.

Thoroughly research any entertainment you are providing such as comedians and guest speakers to ensure you are happy their content would not constitute harassment or discrimination to your guests.

How to handle the HR fallout when things go wrong

When an issue is raised or disclosure made, it is important that employers act quickly.  Firstly, an investigation should be conducted to ascertain the factual basis of any allegations and to understand how/why it took place.

Take the matter seriously – an allegation of an inappropriate joke may end up as a discrimination claim, so make sure all the details are taken and reassure the employee raising the issue that they are being listened to.

Take action. Vero HR deal with HR fallout from the office Christmas party every year and, whilst the majority of cases can be addressed without legal ramifications, it always requires the Company to take action to mitigate the impact and avoid falling into the same trap at the next company event.


If your organisation needs HR solutions, Vero HR can help. We will provide you with dedicated HR Services to effectively manage your workforce and assist with all your HR requirements.  Contact us today to find out how we can help your business.

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