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8 Ways to Minimize Legal Risk at Work-related Events

Work-related social events are on the rise across most companies and can be a great way to bring all employees together to boost morale and encourage team cohesion.

However, whilst you will no doubt want to reward your employees for their hard work and commitment to the business, we have all witnessed compulsory team-building events or social gatherings take a negative turn – especially where alcohol is involved.

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The usual scenarios of staff misbehaving are often entertaining, and in most instances, brushed aside as harmless fun, but the risks posed by work-related events should not be overlooked.

From harassment and discrimination to work no-shows and disciplinary issues, employers could be left with more than just a sore head the next morning if an event is not managed properly.

Whilst it can be hard to find the right balance when it comes to planning a work event, the best thing to do is to try and mitigate against any potential legal issues from arising in the first place.

This checklist will enable everyone to relax and enjoy themselves, whilst protecting against the occurrence of any damaging employment tribunals.

  • CHECK that you are being inclusive – Ensure that every single employee is invited to the event, including those on maternity and sick leave – this will help to mitigate against any discrimination complaints. However, some employees may not want to attend for personal, religious or health reasons, so make sure their position is taken into consideration and they do not feel under pressure to make an appearance.
  • CHECK that you are catering for everyone – From the food and drink on offer to the entertainment provided, it’s important to ensure that your gatherings are welcoming to all. For example, make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks as well as catering for any specific dietary requirements. Employers should also consider reviewing any entertainers or speakers in advance to ensure that their material is appropriate and will not offend anyone present.
  • CHECK that your staff handbook is up to date – Regardless of whether you are holding a social event out of hours and offsite, it can be considered an extension of the work environment.  Therefore, it is important to lay out your expectations for employee behavior – including your disciplinary, anti-bullying and harassment policies – to stop individuals from getting carried away. Sending an email around the week before reminding staff of your HR policies can be particularly useful!
  • CHECK that your staff are aware of your sickness and absence policy – A gentle reminder about your policies will help to discourage staff from taking unjustified sick leave, or to suddenly announce they are working from home, following an event. This is particularly important if you are holding a compulsory social function in the middle of the week.   
  • CHECK that you have appropriate disciplinary procedures in place – In the event that a staff member does behave inappropriately at a work function, it’s important that these issues are addressed using normal disciplinary procedures. However, whilst certain steps may need to be taken at the time to diffuse a situation, its best to wait and deal with any grievances at the first opportunity when back in the office.
  • CHECK that your staff can get home safely – Employers have a duty of care to their employees and this extends to ensuring that they can get home safely from any work-related social events. Make sure to advise your staff to plan their journey home in advance or consider organizing taxis or hired transport. You might even want to consider ending the celebrations before public transport stops running.
  • CHECK that there is a limit if there is a free bar – Most incidents that occur at work gatherings are alcohol-fuelled. If you are providing a free bar, consider setting a limit beforehand to help mitigate against excessive consumption and hostile situations. 
  • CHECK that you have an adequate social media policy – Whilst sharing pictures and videos can seem like a great idea at the time, this can lead to several problems. For example, there could be data protection issues if you do not have employees consent to post photos of them and there is also the risk staff posting messages which could cause offence and damage a company’s reputation. Having a comprehensive social media policy will help to mitigate against any inappropriate use and prevent the need for any disciplinary action.    

About the author: Claire Woolf is a Managing Editor at Sparqa Legal. Sparqa Legal is an online platform providing expert legal guidance and autogenerated documents for all businesses. Founded by a team of senior barristers and tech executives, Sparqa Legal is on a mission to make law accessible and empower business to fulfil their own legal needs. 

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