HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsChristmas parties: Don’t let them get out of hand

Christmas parties: Don’t let them get out of hand

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Are you holding an end-of-year party at your organisation this year?

End-of-year parties, staff parties, holiday parties, office parties, Christmas parties — whatever you call them — are necessary at this time of the year, regardless of your budget constraints.

Successful parties have been known to build staff morale and provide an opportunity for organisations to thank staff for their efforts and accomplishments during the year in a relaxed and enjoyable environment.

Christmas parties make your employees feel valued and encourage a positive work environment. Unfortunately, these parties rarely pass without incident.

Weird things are known to happen at Christmas parties across the world each year. Behaviours such as sexually suggestive dancing, lewd sexual comments, inappropriate sexual touching, racist jokes, excessive consumption of alcohol, dancing on top of tables, bosses making passes at subordinates, women wearing micro-miniskirts and skimpy tops are not uncommon.

In Western countries, employees even go to the extent of photocopying their body parts and sharing the images with the opposite sex at the office parties! Some take these occasions as an opportunity to smoke drugs such as marijuana.

Alcohol can make people do unpalatable things.
A few years ago at a company in Msasa, a female manager went “missing” after having one too many.

A search party went after her only to catch up with her at a secluded spot on the premises having the time of her life with the company messenger! Needless to say, she had to resign in shame and that also marked the end of her marriage.

Employers should realise that in terms of the principle of vicarious liability, they are legally responsible for the behaviour of their staff and this duty of care extends to Christmas parties.

Regardless of wherever they are held, staff parties are still classified as a work function. Any incidents that occur during and sometimes after the function can be the employer’s responsibility and can result in the employer being liable for civil claims relating to sexual harassment, discrimination and so on.

To safeguard themselves from potential civil claims and to make sure that staff parties pass without incident, employers are advised to take heed of the following hints as they make their preparations:

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  • Proactive steps should be taken by issuing a written statement to staff setting out rules and acceptable standards of behaviour before the event. It should be made clear to employees that misconduct at the Christmas party will be dealt with in exactly the same way as it would be in the workplace and could result in dismissal.

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  • It is advisable to hold parties during the day rather than in the evenings. This requires the organisers to be strict on starting and finishing times.

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  • Christmas parties invariably involve lots of alcohol. Alcohol-free parties should be considered. If this is not possible, the alternative will be to restrict the amount of alcohol available.

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  • Ensure that some people remain sober at the party, to supervise the function, drive company vehicles and so on.

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  • If an employee starts misbehaving, he or she should be asked to leave the party and transport arranged for them if it is considered that they may not get home safely. Management should work closely with worker representatives to identify any misbehaviour and take appropriate action timeously.

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  • Gatecrashing should be strictly controlled. The employer is still liable for the conduct of gatecrashers and invited guests.

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  • Managers should avoid making promises on such sensitive issues as pay rises as hollow promises made at such events can have significant, costly consequences for the employer. A promise made at a Christmas party is still a promise. Staff performance reviews should be avoided at Christmas parties!

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  • It is also important to come up with an appropriate dress code for such occasions and communicate this to staff beforehand.
    Employees generally make the mistake of thinking that conduct outside the workplace cannot result in disciplinary action against them. To those who cannot resist the festive spirit and who are itching for their annual Christmas bash in the next few weeks, it is advisable to safeguard your job and ensure your personal safety and that of others. The following hints will be helpful:

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  • Do not take Christmas parties as an opportunity to “get back” at your boss for misunderstandings at the office. Insolence or insubordination can result in you losing your job or hanging precariously on a final written warning for the next twelve months.

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  • Sexual misconduct can result in your life being soiled — or spoiled — if it ends up in an unwanted pregnancy or that nasty, itchy rash!

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  • Sometimes it pays to remain sober on such occasions, even though you are an imbiber, as alcohol can impair judgment and lead to unintended consequences.

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  • Avoid driving after taking alcohol. Get a sober colleague to take you home or call your spouse to come and pick you up. A number of people have died in nasty accidents on their way home from Christmas parties.

    Christmas parties are here to stay and should be encouraged, but all those who participate in them should be told very clearly that they will not be allowed to have fun at the expense of others or the organisation.

    About the Author
    Isaac Mazanhi is a labour analyst writing in his own capacity.

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