The Small Firms Association has issued a warning to small businesses hosting staff Christmas parties, advising them to ensure they have sufficient anti bullying and harassment policies in place.
The SFA said it has received numerous calls from its members dealing with bullying, harassment and sexual harassment grievances, as well as a number conflict situations involving employees following staff parties this year.
A recent SFA survey showed compliance with regard to anti bullying/harassment policies is high, with 89% of members having correct procedures, however, the association is advising companies to re-issue such policies - noting their application to "social and out of hours events" in the lead-up to staff parties.
SFA Director Patricia Callan said: "Staff parties can show our employees some due appreciation at the end of a busy year. We all understand the benefits of a social outing on team building too.
"However, these social events also have the potential to provide a context for inappropriate behaviour that could have serious repercussions.
"We recommend managing the alcohol intake of your staff with drink vouchers or a limited bar tab, rather than offering an unrestricted free bar," Ms Callan added.
She also said when an employer hosts a staff party it is their duty of care to protect employees as if they were at work.
"The employer is fully responsible and held liable for incidents that happen at Christmas parties, even if the party is off-site and out of hours," said Ms Callan.
The SFA said businesses that do not have a relevant policy in place are leaving themselves exposed to claims, with a potential two years pay as compensation payable on harassment claims under the Employment Equality Acts, and damages in civil cases.