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Beware the perils of the Christmas Party

By Steve Adcock
Underwriting Manager

The Christmas party is often a byword for embarrassing booze-fuelled behaviour, but it can get out of control very quickly – whether it is a festive “punch up”, unwelcome sexual advances or a nasty accident. As most Christmas parties are company-sponsored, employers are responsible for the welfare of their people. Here follows some advice to help your business enjoy a claim free Christmas and your employees let their hair down in a fun, happy and safe environment...

Vicarious liability
Employees will not always get along. Alcohol loosens inhibitions, which can lead to assault or inappropriate comments. Some extreme cases can end up in court and in the media, leaving employers with a damaged reputation and a complex HR predicament.

It is important to remember that an employer is liable for the wrong doings of their employees, unless they can show they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent them.

Social media provides another unwelcome dimension to vicarious liability. An employer could also be liable if an employee makes any defamatory remarks or comments that amount to bullying or harassment via social media. The likes of Twitter and Facebook also allow unedifying workplace gossip to spread beyond the confines of the water cooler, which could result in substantial reputational damage.

Employers’ liability
Another common risk with Christmas parties is personal injury, a free bar and a dark noisy nightclub can increase the risk of accidents. And companies are potentially liable if their employees should come to harm.

Employers are responsible for providing their employees with a safe place of work, and that extends to the office party. Parties can range from drinks in the office to an event in a decadent nightclub. Nevertheless, regardless of whether your business outsources the party to others, you still have a duty of care to their employees.

Employers’ and public liability insurance could cover damages associated with a slip or trip, or an assault. However, the main risk for most organisations is the potential for a damaged reputation.

Our advice
Insurers can help mitigate the risk, but businesses should carry out a risk assessment and have procedures in place in case something goes wrong. There is no harm in reminding employees of company and social media policies, it is worthwhile providing clear written guidance to your workforce about acceptable standards of behaviour at the party. Having an up-to-date policy on harassment may help to reduce the risk of harassment and provide the basis for a “reasonable steps” defence in the event that it does.

The Christmas party can be a welcome distraction from the daily grind and all organisations want their employees to enjoy themselves.  A few simple steps will ensure it is a positive experience for all.

Steve Adcock, Underwriting Manager, UK and Ireland Retail

Your contact

Your contact

Steve Adcock

Steve Adcock

Underwriting Manager - Commercial Lines

Tel: +44 20 7105 4189

steve.adcock@uk.qbe.com