HR Expert: Encouraging inclusion at work related social events

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Following a difficult period where a discrimination claim was brought against my client, they want to be careful to ensure that from now on they are as inclusive as possible, including with the upcoming annual company party. Do you have any tips I can share to make sure the event is as inclusive as possible?

As we approach the end of the year, many employers will be thinking of ways they can celebrate the years successes with their employees. Often this means a Christmas party, generally involving a late night, alcohol and frivolity, but these events aren’t always inclusive. Below we share some tips for your client to help ensure it is an event open to all.

The risks of getting it wrong
Although work-related social events are intended to be a positive and well-meaning event, there are risks that can arise even with these good intentions.
Discrimination can be an issue, where, because of their protected characteristic, an individual feels they are being treated less favourably or harassed because of unwanted conduct. Therefore, it is important consider the impact plans could have on individuals with a protected characteristic, and put in place alternatives where necessary.

Staff survey
Your client could consider carrying out a staff survey to choose a date which suits most attendees, and provide ample notice of this. When deciding on a date, your client will have to balance the needs of certain groups, such as parents (arranging childcare) and those following certain religions (that may require attendance at prayers or other ceremonies during the work event).

Event name
What your client calls the event will reflect on its inclusivity, so choosing a name that is open to all is recommended, such as an “end of year celebration”.

The location must be accessible, and suitable, for all employees to attend. Some considerations include:

• how close the event is to the workplace and employee’s homes
• accessibility and lifts for disabled employees
• the availability of seating and places to rest
• the location’s environment and culture (for example, a pub may create an assumption that the event has been organised to encourage drinking alcohol)
• entry specifications, such as whether underage staff are allowed in.

Invite everyone
When inviting employees to the event, your client should ensure to include all employees, even those who work remotely or in the field, or those absent on family related leave or sickness absence. A failure to invite these employees could lead to risks such as employees feeling isolated, increased poor mental health, and complaints of discrimination.

Suitable refreshments
Taking into account religious observance and dietary requirements when providing refreshments is critical to an inclusive event. Asking employees in advance about any dietary requirements will help with this.

Remind staff members that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated
To limit the risk, organisations can take steps beforehand:

• implement a work related social events policy within the workplace policies
• send a letter to all members of staff reminding them that their behaviour should remain professional and appropriate
• have a workplace notice on appropriate conduct at the event.

Ensuring staff understand the rules, and what behaviour is expected of them during the event, enables any rule breaches or inappropriate behaviour to be addressed on their return to work. Encourage them to come forward to an appropriate manager if they think these rules are not being followed.

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