Christmas is upon us, and it is time for the work Christmas party, but employers should beware, according to an employment law expert.

The Christmas party is often the source and sometimes the scene of difficulties for employees, that could lead to employers finding themselves before the courts.

The problems that arise relate to unwanted, inappropriate or violent behaviour, that is often fuelled by alcohol.

Employers are sometimes not aware that the Christmas party is an extension of the working day, and the workplace.

"This is something that people sometimes tend to forget," according to Patrick Walsh, Partner at Philip Lee. "They think if they are in a function room in a pub down the road that they are not in the office environment and the usual rules don't apply. That's completely untrue. If it is organised by the office, it is connected with the work place, it's part of the work place, and the same rules apply."

Most importantly if you are an employer, the same obligation you have to keep your employees safe at work, applies to the Christmas party, Mr Walsh said.

Those rules might also apply, even if an employer is not funding the event. "I would err on the side of caution if I was advising a client," Mr Walsh said. "If it is an entirely private night out among employees that has absolutely nothing to do with the office, it's probably more of a remote risk, but on the other hand if it is a social group that the employer perhaps contributes to during the year, or if there is a link, even if it is a tenuous link between the workplace and the social outing, I'd exercise great care if I was an employer."

Mr Walsh said there have been cases before the courts "where employees were effectively on an unsanctioned night out, something unpleasant happened, and it came back to bite the employer".

He advises employers to have a policy in place outlining acceptable behaviour in the work place, an anti-bullying and anti-harrassment policy, that also applies at social events connected to work.

He also advises employers to email employees before the Christmas party encouraging them to have a fun night, but to be careful in their interactions with colleagues, remembering their obligations to be respectful to colleagues apply at the party in the same way that they do at work.