Christmas work parties, should they be cancelled?

Should office Christmas parties be cancelled in order to keep COVID-19 Cases down, with surging case numbers and immunity waning for the vaccinated, should such in-person events go ahead?

As it stands, the Government has not advised employers to cancel festive parties. However, during the week Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan encouraged people not to attend. When asked if Christmas parties should go ahead he said “We’re advising people to stay at home as much as possible,”

With the absence of any clear advice on the matter many employers could be left in a tricky situation.

Partner and Employment Law expert, Patrick Walshe at Philip Lee law firm pointed out that the employer’s obligation to provide a ‘safe place of work’ extends to workplace social events.

This means employers need to be sure that the venue for the party complies in full with all the public health and public safety rules in place.

Mr Walshe said “If this can’t be guaranteed, an employer will have to ask themselves if it is worth going ahead with the event – or at least, worth going ahead with the event in that particular venue,”

Mr Walshe said: “Venue aside, employers should also ensure, if the party goes ahead, that staff continue to follow the public health rules, especially once drink is taken. There is no harm at all – and, in fact, it is probably essential – to brief staff in advance and, among other things, remind them to follow the rules at all times.”

Employers will have to weigh up whether to have unofficial social events this Christmas because “the courts and tribunals are prepared to consider an off-site function as having a connection with the office in certain circumstances”.

Mr Walshe said that employers could be liable if the Christmas event has been organised during office hours, was publicised in the office by a social committee, if the employer is paying, and if “in the round”, the party could be considered an “official” event.