COVID19: Caution urged ahead of company Christmas parties

The return of the company Christmas party after cancellations in 2020 calls for extra caution from employers, in the face of still high COVID-19 case numbers, and the recently discovered Omicron variant.

Legal protection specialist, ARAG, says that while many large-scale parties have already been cancelled and the prospects, even for smaller events, hang in the balance, employment risks remain.

“Every year, we advise businesses about the employment risks that social events can increase, such as harassment, said head of claims at the firm, Chris Millward. “But the ongoing pandemic presents some new issues that bosses need to navigate.

"Most of us are so ready for a party after two years of lockdowns and limitations on social gatherings, but that will mean different things to different people. Some may be a little too enthusiastic and might need reining in, but others could be anxious about the virus and just being in a party situation. We often urge employers to think about staff who, for whatever reasons, may not want to attend a Christmas bash. This year, there could be lots of people who want to attend but cannot, if they or a loved one are isolating or particularly vulnerable.

Bosses might like to think about making alternative arrangements for those people who are missing out, like sending them a gift or holding a parallel online event.”

For businesses holding live Christmas events, ARAG has a five-point PARTY strategy:

• Plan: Check cancellation terms and make contingency plans, just in case. Review the venue’s COVID-19 risk assessment and communicate any requirements to guests

• Adapt to local circumstances, if there are cases among the workforce or a spike in infections in the local area. Consider smaller, team gatherings or 2020-style Zoom events

• Remind: It’s probably been a while, so employees may need reminding that normal workplace rules of conduct and behaviour still apply at off-site events

• Test: Compelling employees to show a negative test could raise tricky legal issues, but providing tests and asking staff to use them before attending will help minimise infection risk

• You’re ready. For so many employees still working from home or only just back in the office, a festive get-together, however small, is likely to be a big boost to morale.

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