After a hard year’s work, many employers reward their staff with a party. Unfortunately, these festivities can cause all sorts of problems. What can you do to prevent things getting out of hand?

Work-related social events have landed numerous employers with problems; employees who are in the mood to celebrate may be tempted to drink excessively, particularly if there is a free or subsidised bar. This can lead to arguments, inappropriate behaviour and even violence. Some staff may even upset other people by telling offensive jokes or harassing them (this includes women too).

Unfortunately, where an individual attends a function that their employer has arranged, the employer can be held "vicariously liable" responsible for their actions towards any third parties and could end up with a tribunal claim. So it makes sense to spell out to all employees what type of behaviour is expected of them at the event.

The easiest and quickest way to do this is by issuing a statement to employees before the work event (a sample clause can be obtained from the NAMB on 01920 468061). This statement should explain that misconduct will be treated seriously and that disciplinary action may be taken should it occur. Fighting or the misuse of illegal drugs could be construed as potential gross misconduct you should remind your employees that this could result in dismissal.

You can also stop following-day ’sickies’ where some employees may be tempted to telephone in sick when an event has been held before a working day. Their illness may, or may not be attributed to a hangover. As this type of behaviour is also unacceptable, you must always make it clear in your statement that:

1.Employees must not drink excessively at the work-related event

2.Any sickness absence following the event could result in disciplinary action, especially if it self-inflicted.

Some employees may also take their partner/guest to work functions. It might be sensible to show them a copy of your statement. This will ensure that they are aware of the rules about unacceptable behaviour. Although you cannot discipline the partner/guest, you should still insist on certain standards of behaviour, as you can be held liable for the actions of third parties towards your own employees.

If any guest acts out-of-line, do not hesitate to ask them to leave, although you must exercise discretion here.