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Tis' The Season To Avoid Litigation: Making Sure Your Office Christmas Party Is Safe

Dec 20, 2007
According to recent statistics, a third of companies aren't planning on hosting the traditional office Christmas Party this year, amidst concerns about legal action due to drunken antics and so forth. While I can safely say there are many more office safety risks during a party than the rest of the year (most offices just aren't built for that level of snacks, alcohol and cheesy music), with a little thinking ahead the office Christmas party can become the celebrated institution it once was - without the dark cloud of litigation hanging overhead. It's important to keep the office health and safety precautions in the background however - no one likes the idea of constant red tape when they're trying to unwind. Already over half of managers recently surveyed felt the celebratory atmosphere felt very 'forced'.

Here are 5 workplace health and safety steps you can take to minimise the risk of a litigious post party hangover.

1) Take it out of the office

The easiest way of avoiding the legal minefield of workplace health and safety laws is to take it out of the office! As I mentioned earlier, the typical office with its computers, water cooler and cubicles is just not built for the antics and tomfoolery of the stereotypical office Christmas party. Booking a restaurant or a hotel may seem like an unnecessary expense in the short term, but the different environment will help people unwind and enjoy themselves, and your precious photocopier will not be damaged by the exhibitionist office clown!

2) Leave off the Mistletoe

This one is less 'health and safety' and more to do with employment law, but one of the biggest concerns for legal action is the fear of sexual harassment in the workplace. And while the Mistletoe is a firm favourite, in some cases it really can be asking for trouble. By taking it off the list of decorations, you will limit your responsibility if someone does feel harassed or intimidated - remember that if you are funding the party, then the party will still come under the office rules, including those pertaining to sexual harassment. As a warning about office conduct in general, a worker from Merill Lynch was paid a 1,000,000 out of court settlement over comments about her sex life and breasts at the office Christmas party, so keep an eye out for inappropriate conduct.

3) Look out for hazards

Here's a bizarre statistic for you: in 2002, 1,000 people were injured by falling Christmas trees. It just goes to show that hazards are everywhere, especially with the alcohol free flowing. If you can't budget to have the office elsewhere, make sure you're not creating trouble where there were no occupational health and safety hazards before. Typical Christmas office safety pitfalls can be easily avoided: Don't allow people to stand on office chairs or desks to put up decorations and don't allow fire hazards like Christmas lights to be hung on computers or air vents. Also, ensure that all the usual emergency information is not obscured by crass decorations - even if it means there's no room for that last life-size reindeer model - the office health and safety laws must come first!

4) Watch out for the alcohol

It's unsurprising that many managers are terrified at the workplace health and safety inspector's nightmare: combining alcohol with expensive office equipment. Fortunately, there are steps you can take towards limiting the potential for damage and aiding office safety. It's a well known fact that alcohol is most potent on an empty stomach, so put on some catering. Salty snacks are less recommended because they create a thirst which can be counter-intuitive for the alcohol-wary manager. A good way of being able to control the alcohol a little more is by making your own punch - the alcohol content is then up to you, and the fruit juice in them will cause the alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream that little bit slower.

5) Put on transportation

Booking some taxis or providing rooms for party goers to sleep may sound like an unnecessary expense at the end of the night, but the cost is far less than the risk they would cause to themselves by drink driving, or the damage to the company if they sue due to an accident as they stagger back to their homes. And the extra cost involved is all in the spirit of Christmas, and will ensure that for just one day, you aren't compared to Ebenezer Scrooge!

One final word of advice: According to a recent survey, Bing Crosby's White Christmas and The Pogues' Fairytale of New York are our favourite Christmas songs, while Cliff Richard's Mistletoe and Wine, and Wham's Last Christmas are best avoided if you want to keep the moaning to a minimum! Some would call a Christmas over indulgence in Cliff a far more concerning breach of health and safety laws, than a little alcohol abuse!
About the Author
Iain Mackintosh is the managing director of Simply-Docs. The firm provides over 1100 legal document templates covering all aspects of business from the new holiday entitlement requirements to workplace health and safety laws.
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