Right now many of you are planning your staff Christmas party and it probably involves a meal, perhaps some entertainment and drinks. But have you thought of your responsibilities for your employees both during the evening and at the end of the night? Have you considered the key question – how are they going to get home safely?

Yes health and safety does extend into the Christmas night out!

You may feel that it is enough to book the venue, organise the entertainment, select the menu, pay for the food and drink at the bar and invite everyone. Sure what can go wrong? Lots of things. Let us consider a few scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Some staff become abusive verbally or physically

After a few drinks, some employees may say things they would not normally say to the boss or to their fellow workers etc. They may let loose their year-long frustration at someone and it might be vicious, inappropriate and extremely hurtful. The may give voice to their thoughts about the boss’s hair, clothing and management style and will complain about the time they were ordered to work late on a Friday evening to finish a piece of work that was later found not to be that urgent. They felt hurt at the time as they had other plans for that Friday night and it is about time the boss knew how they felt.

The following morning you could have a harassment case brought by the employee on the receiving end or a Manager demanding that the offensive employee be disciplined or even sacked.

Scenario 2 – Some may sexually harass others

Norms of behaviour can be relaxed after a few drinks and employees may behave in an unsavoury, sexualised way. That junior guy in the post room, who has secretly fancied the MD’s Secretary for years, sees his chance and makes a lunge for her as she comes out of the Ladies Room. He ridiculously believes that she might actually fancy him as she smiled at him several times as she collected post every day.

Now you may have a potential sexual harassment claim on your hands. Your responsibilities for the behaviour of your employees extends to the night out because it is a work night out and they have a working relationship.

Scenario 3 – Staff have too much to drink

The old, not discredited excuse for bad behaviour which was “sure I had drink taken” will not be acceptable. It will not work after the maintenance guy strips off and dances on the tables to impress the Accounts Department or when the Purchasing Manager woman sits astride the lap of the Chief Engineer to discuss his rotary pumps.

Now you may have a case about inappropriate behaviour and the damage to working relationships that you have to try to fix.

So what are you to do if you are the employer planning a night out at Christmas? Planning is exactly what you need to do – here are some tips:

Tip 1 – Brief all employees about what is to happen

Let them know that while they can let their hair down on the dance floor and while telling dirty jokes, their behaviour is expected to be normal, acceptable and appropriate. Inform them that a Senior Manager will be on duty all night to ensure everyone has a great time. Consult with them about the arrangements to get everyone home. A mini-bus can work very well when many employees live in a given area.

Tip 2 – Pick the night the party is on

If you are going to have a night out try to have it on a night when there is no work for anyone the following day. This can be difficult if you operate a 7 day business but it needs to be thought about. Simply put – if you have a night out on a Thursday and those attending have a lot to drink, then is it realistic to expect them to work on Friday? This is particularly relevant if (a) they have to drive to work as they may still be under the influence (and could be breathalysed), (b) they operate machinery as part of their work and/or (c) they drive vehicles for your business.

Tip 3 – Limit the amount of drink

We Irish are great people to drink and I am not trying to be a kill-joy here but we do need to limit the amount of drink that you decide to pay for e.g. you may pay for the first two or three drinks or for wine with the meal and we need to consider the overall the amount that employees may consume. Are you going to allow a situation to develop where employees get really drunk and are unable to walk at the end of the night? Are you going to abandon them at the venue in an unsafe and vulnerable state? You still have a duty of care even on a night out.

Best practice is to limit the number of drinks that employees may have (or at least the number of drinks that the company is paying for).

Tip 4 – Have a Senior Manager on duty

Many companies arrange to have at least one Senior Manager on duty who undertakes not to drink on the night (this duty can be rotated among all Managers throughout the year to cover all nights out) and their role on the night is to look out for everyone.

They will monitor the drinking, the effect of the drinking on subsequent behaviour to prevent situations of sexual harassment or other conflict arising where practicable.

Tip 5 – Get everyone home safely

This is the most important duty the non-drinking Senior Manager has. This can be organised through the use of taxis or by using a mini-bus and this needs to be planned for in advance. It is also not acceptable to allow one inebriated employee give a lift to another one.

Equally important is the situation where an employee announces they are driving home and it is clear that they are not fit to do so. Here the Senior Manager should take action to remove their car keys and get them home safely another way.

Tip 6 – Dealing with employees who wants to stay out?

There may be a situation where one or more employees want to “stay out” beyond the Company night out and possibly go on to another venue or a night club. This is their right of course but where does that leave the Company who are now not able to ensure that they get home safely?

My advice to clients has always been that if the employee decides to stay out then they need to be made aware that the Company cannot ensure they get home and that they are now on their own. Ideally this conversation needs to be witnessed by another employee who is not too drunk to remember it the following day if something bad should happen.

In conclusion

Overall we want everyone to have an enjoyable night out as a reward and a thank you for a hard year’s work. It is not rocket science to organise this so that everyone is safely back home that night.

Have a wonderful safe and Happy Christmas with all your loved ones close to you.

See you in 2016.