Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: A member of staff got very drunk at our Christmas party. He was rude, offensive and over-attentive to female staff. As it was a party, can I discipline him?

Oh dear, the Christmas party - one of those occasions for enforced jollity when some would rather be at home watching television.

Of course, it is widely known that bullying and drunken punch-ups are just a couple of the likely hazards for employers brave enough to have a Christmas knees-up for staff.

You need to be aware that, even though this might be a party out of working hours and perhaps not even on the premises, it is still your responsibility to ensure that things go well. For example, if you see a member of staff who has drunk too much and plans to drive home, you have a responsibility to make sure they don't.

Duty of care

The employment arbitration service ACAS has actually warned employers that they continue to have a duty of care to their staff if it is a company party. Likewise, staff are still bound by their obligations as employees.

ACAS points out that going to the pub before the office party also counts as an extension of work. So if, for example, a member of staff suffers verbal abuse about being gay, then the laws covering discrimination still apply.

I am sure you already have policies in place to cover bullying, harassment and discrimination. If everyone knows what these are, there can be no excuse for not dealing with the person who was behaving badly at the Christmas party.

Have a word

So I am afraid that you are going to have to have a word with this person.

Make it clear that such behaviour was unacceptable, even if it was under the influence. Exactly what level of disciplinary action you need to take is something you will have to consider in the context of what actually happened and how offensive it was to colleagues. At the very least, a very severe dressing-down is called for - and a warning on future behaviour.

You might also want to consider whether this could be part of a pattern - for example, does this person have a drink problem?

I know some of my members are concerned that health and safety and employment regulations are making it increasingly difficult to have events, such as Christmas parties, outside work. But let common sense prevail - it is always good to lay on fun events for staff that show you appreciate their work. After all, we don't have the big City pay bonuses, so a small party or other tokens are nice ways of saying thank you.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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