Whether the Omicron variant of Coronavirus leads to a change in government policy and guidance on workers working from home where possible remains to be seen. Currently, England is the last man standing of the home nations within the UK. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all told their workers to work from home unless this is impractical. How long the position in England remains unchanged is anyone’s guess but concern over the discovery of a new variant has already led to many businesses reconsidering whether to hold their annual Christmas party.
Sadly, already party venues and restaurants are complaining about a surge in cancellations, which will be another body blow to the hospitality sector. Our Prime Minister has urged that nativity plays and Christmas parties go ahead but that seemed to be at odds with advice from other government sources. Employers have a legal duty under Health and Safety law and a tortious duty to look after the welfare of their employees and should follow the latest government guidance. Assuming that you are brave enough to stage a work Christmas party or gathering this season, the following policy tips might come in useful:
- Liaise with the venue to ensure a risk assessment for Covid has been undertaken.
- Recommend that all partygoers take a lateral flow test immediately before the event and if they are feeling even slightly unwell they should be asked to not attend.
- Suggest that anyone that has been in contact with someone that has tested positive within 10 days before the party doesn’t attend out of caution (regardless of a negative lateral flow test as these can sometimes lag or provide false negatives).
- Ensure indoor party venues are well vented and windows are kept open – this can help limit transmission (but is far from ideal if you are in a party dress).
- Wear a mask. The Government guidance is that masks should be worn in indoor settings (even though this is not a legal requirement) when you are meeting people you don’t normally meet but they can be removed in areas that are “wholly or mainly” used for eating and drinking.
- Ensure anti-viral gels are liberally distributed in the venue.
- It would be wise to limit alcohol consumption and ensure food is provided as employees that are shorn of inhibitions through drink are more likely to misbehave, forget or not follow the rules. This is a familiar mantra that applies in non-Covid times but is particularly apt now.
- Bowls of crisps, nuts and other “sharing” snacks should be avoided to curb the risk of transmission.
- Encourage staff to avoid singing – banging out Wham’s Last Christmas can be good for the soul but bad news for dispersal of droplets that could be Covid-infected.
If all of the above just feels like a gigantic fun-sponge perhaps a postponement would be a sensible move and a summer event planned in lieu. For many staff this will be a blow but not everyone will be disappointed. As one HR Director told me at a recent conference, “..A cancelled Christmas party is the best kind of party as I don’t have to turn a blind eye to the excess or leave the party early”.
About 52% of UK workplaces have decided not to hold a Christmas office party, according to a survey of 2,000 office workers commissioned by Covid testing company Prenetics.