Guide to staff socials and minimising risk

Staff parties whether staff are meeting in person or on Zoom or other social media posting platforms (during virus lockdown periods) can be an area of high risk for employers (especially when alcohol is involved).

See our tips below on how to avoid common pitfalls:

Staff Conduct
Even though staff may be in the mood to celebrate, your business continues to be potentially liable for the acts of its staff at such events. It is therefore essential to communicate that the same disciplinary rules will apply, especially where alcohol will be involved, even if the event is taking place off-site or online. Ensure that your disciplinary policies are up to date and that your staff are reminded before the event of the standards or behaviour that are expected of them.  Be clear on the use of messaging during events on social meeting platforms.

Social Media
Have an up to date social media policy in place to make your rules around the use of social networking sites inside and outside the office clear.  This may need updating to deal with the use of social meeting platforms for work events.  This can help prevent unwanted photos and comments appearing for which you as the employer could be liable if another employee takes offence. This approach will also give you greater power to take disciplinary action against any employees who post inappropriate/discriminatory comments that cause harm to other employees and that could damage your reputation.

You’re not on the Guest List
Ensure that employees who are on family-related leave or those who are furloughed are not missed out when invitations go out.
If you have decided to invite partners, it is important that you do not limit the invitation to husbands and wives. Same-sex partners should not be excluded from the list of invitees. This will avoid potential discrimination claims based on sexual orientation.

Don’t forget to be careful about inviting consultants, freelancers or independent contractors: inviting them to a company social event could later support an argument that they have “employee” status or trigger IR35 issues.


For Christmas, parties discourage staff from buying potentially upsetting or offensive secret Santa gifts. Giving some guidance on what the business, in general terms, considers acceptable/unacceptable may be useful.

Talking Shop
Advise managers not to be drawn into conversations about promotions, pay rises, career development or such matters that relate to staff performance reviews at social events. These matters should be discussed formally at appraisals or in private with the employee whilst at work. Also, inform managers of the standards of behaviour expected of them as senior individuals in the business who you would want to set a good example.

If alcohol is being provided, you can indirectly encourage moderation by limiting the amount of alcohol available or the length of time that the bar will continue to serve drinks.  For online work related socials, this may prove to be an issue.  Having the ability to cut feed on anyone behaving inappropriately may be helpful.

The Morning After
For big annual events ensure that employees are aware of how the business will react to absence the following day – will the usual rules on absence apply? Offering a complimentary breakfast or some other kind of incentive (such as later start time) the following morning may help ensure that everyone comes in the next day.

If you need advice or have any questions in relation to the above, please contact David Greenhalgh on 020 3603 2177.

This article/blog is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.