The run up to Christmas is always a very busy time of year in schools with lots of festive activities for pupils.
But as an employer, Christmas can throw up a number of issues relating to staff Christmas celebrations at the end of term. Leadership teams need to make sure they are ready for the holiday season.
It is very important to plan your Christmas party to minimise the risk of staff misconduct, grievances and other HR issues, whilst of course encouraging your staff to relax and enjoy themselves in the festive season.
Work related events are extensions of the workplace
Christmas parties are an opportunity to show staff that they are appreciated and can be a great way of boosting staff morale, which given the workload pressures in schools, is key. However, no matter how much time is spent planning the festive night out, you can find yourself managing the HR issues Christmas parties often cause well into the new year.
With high spirits comes a much higher risk of staff acting inappropriately towards their colleagues and causing HR issues. What many staff seem to be ignorant about, is that any Christmas event that is work-related is an extension of the workplace and as such, schools are liable for third party actions. So headteachers and principals need to decide how to ensure employees behave appropriately and how to deal with worse-for-wear workers who turn up late the morning after the big event.
Catering for Diversity
As society and the workplace becomes more diverse, staff events need to cater for different religions. The key area for a grievance to be raised is where an employee feels that they have been discriminated against at the Christmas party. Not all the workforce may want to partake in alcohol, so ensure that you have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available. You must not make it compulsory for all staff to attend and you need to think about the composition of the workforce.
The increasing use of social media including Facebook and Twitter, add yet another risk associated with the Christmas party. It is very tempting for users of these sites to upload photos of their colleagues often looking a bit worse for wear, which given their positions as role-models in the school could result in disciplinary action being taken!
So what can schools do to manage the issues that can arise from staff Christmas parties:-
- Remind staff that normal rules of behaviour apply even off the premises and that the party venue is an extension of the workplace. As an employer you have a duty of care so you are still responsible at the Christmas party
- Staff need to be reminded that any inappropriate behaviour at the Christmas party is viewed under the same rules as it would be during working hours
- Remind staff not to drink and drive and to make suitable arrangements to get home if they want to drink. Consider the use of organising a mini bus to pick up and take people home. If you don’t want to fund this then you could offer to arrange/organise this for staff on the basis that they will have to pay for this service
- Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available and ensure that there is a vegetarian choice on the menu
- Inform staff that over-indulging at the Christmas party doesn’t excuse them from coming into work the next day. It’s probably best for schools and academies to arrange parties on a Friday or Saturday night
- Don’t forget to invite staff who are on maternity/paternity leave
- Do not make it compulsory to attend. It might clash with non-Christian religious dates
- If you employ disabled staff who have access requirements you need to ensure that the venue is fully accessible
- If an employee becomes intoxicated it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the employee is taken home safely
- Avoid discussions about career prospects or remuneration with employees, as words of encouragement and good intentions could be misinterpreted.