To drink or not to drink, that is the question

Without wishing the year to pass more quickly than it already has, Christmas is almost upon us. This poses the vexed question of the Christmas “do”, let alone who is going to organise it or decide on the venue.

It seems that with every passing year, and ever increasing employment legislation, not to mention case law precedent, it is almost impossible not to offend someone`s sensitivities and, as we all know, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!

How many times has the party organiser heard “I don`t like curry”, “I’m sick of turkey”, “Can’t we just have the money”.  Then there is the employee who has too much to drink and becomes obnoxious, over familiar or abusive about work colleagues or management.  Is it really worth it?

Some employers feel it is one way to express their appreciation for everyone`s efforts throughout the year and this becomes an accepted/expected annual event, especially when the employer pays the bill including any alcohol.  Employees need to be aware that although such events may be held outside of normal working hours, the normal rules of behaviour still apply. For example, any employee, who has had too much to drink can still be disciplined for improper and inappropriate language, threatening behaviour or sexual harassment.  If sufficiently serious this could lead to dismissal, but do give consideration that any case for dismissal could be weakened if the employer has footed the bar bill, as this action could be deemed almost as condoning the drinking!

If such as case does arise, you will need to investigate the incident and obtain witness statements, in the normal way, and warn the individual concerned that one possible outcome could be dismissal.  Follow a proper procedure and you will not go far wrong, as these days a fair procedure is crucial.

“But I don`t drink” or “I don’t eat meat” you may hear people cry.  Just make sure that there is a non-alcoholic alternative available and any dietary needs can be accommodated, although most restaurants automatically offer vegetarian options and even gluten free these days.  Just make it clear to all your employees that everyone is invited not withstanding any personal preferences.

On balance it is a good idea to get everyone together for a festive social gathering and thank employees personally.  Just also be aware of the possible danger of allowing an employee to drive whilst over the drink drive limit and especially where a free bar has been provided!   Insist that the employee gets a taxi or arrange for another employee to take them home.

One of our clients has already posed the question of what will be the repercussions, if any, if they decide not to arrange any Christmas festivities as this breaks a long tradition of many years.  With a very great stretch of the imagination it might be argued that it is an implied term due to custom and practise, however it is not contractual and in the current economic climate it would be acceptable from a business perspective to inform employees that this year due to financial constraints Christmas is cancelled!  It is the opinion of Alcumus that the worst that would happen would be a few “bah humbug” comments and you being crossed off a few Christmas card lists!

Watch this space as I am sure we will be able to illustrate real live scenarios in the New Year, just to put flesh on the bones: they may even be entertaining especially if your company is not the one involved.