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Christmas in the time of Covid

In normal times, planning for the office Christmas party starts even earlier than the supermarkets start selling mince pies. These are not normal times. Many companies have determined already not to host a party this year; others are holding off confirming anything until the situation becomes a little clearer.

The difficulty for those businesses wishing to organise an event is understanding the interplay between the rules and guidance on social occasions and those for work, and (when they do) still hosting a party that colleagues actually want to attend. We have looked closely at the current guidance and considered how it might be possible to bring a little (much needed) festive cheer in a compliant, responsible and fun way. This note will be updated as and when the current guidance is (inevitably) changed.

Safety in (smaller) numbers

It is clear that whole-office Christmas parties, fuelled by immoderate amounts of mulled wine, ending with ‘enthusiastic’ dancing in crowded rooms/clubs, are out (for 2020 at least). There are rules of general application to everyone limiting the size of gatherings. The rules vary according to the size of the group:

  •  Gatherings of more than 40 people are prohibited. Smaller businesses may therefore still be able to meet en masse. Larger businesses will need to divide into smaller groups.
  •  Gatherings of fewer than 20 people can meet, so long as they comply with the normal Covid-19 rules.
  • Gatherings of between 20 and 40 people will need to be well regulated, and the following rules apply to them:
    • The event must have a designated lead organiser with overall responsibility, who is accountable under health and safety legislation.
    • Communication should be had with all attendees in advance to ensure that anyone with Covid-19 symptoms, or who is self-isolating, does not attend.
    • Viable arrangements to enable contact tracing should be in place.

Better safe than sorry…

All gatherings require a deal more thought than they previously did. In addition to the rules on numbers, businesses will need to do the following things to remain compliant (and demonstrate compliance):

  •  Prepare a risk assessment. The risk assessment must consider:
    • Safe travel and to and from the event for all attending;
    • Safe provision of food and drinks during the event;
    • Sufficient and safe access to toilets throughout; and
    • Safe distancing and hygiene during the event as appropriate and tailored to the activities involved.
    • Discuss with the venue how the area(s) to be used for the event will be managed to ensure safe distancing. It must be possible to maintain a distance of 1 metre between attendees. There should also be appropriate signs to provide direction as to the flow of movement, queuing, entry to the toilet, etc..
    • Businesses should also make appropriate enquiries with the venue about how the venue will be cleaned before the event and what steps are in place to maintain hygiene during it (how often will touch points be sanitised, or the toilets cleaned, for example).

Bah! Humbug!

Not all the guidance is conducive to a good time! The guidance places importance on ensuring maximum levels of ventilation. Consequently outdoor events are preferred – not necessarily ideal given the weather we have been ‘enjoying’ recently. Also the Government is keen to avoid gatherings that deliberately attract off-Island visitors. Colleagues based in other jurisdictions should, therefore, probably stay away (not too much of a hardship, given the rules in place for those arriving into the Island).

Perhaps to the relief of some, but certainly to the distress of others, dancing is strongly discouraged. The guidance also notes that “guests should be reminded to observe respiratory hygiene measures and to refrain from speaking loudly/shouting/singing”. Music must be kept at a low level, to avoid encouraging shouting and/or singing which are a proven transmission risk. Any party is consequently likely to be a little more subdued.

Any alcohol must be served and consumed whilst seated. The guidance also notes that ‘immoderate drinking’ may result in a reduction of inhibitions which, in turn, “may compromise social distancing”. There is no specific rule limiting the amount that might be consumed but businesses should be aware of the guidance and adopt a sensible approach to the variety and quantity of alcohol on offer.

Tidings of comfort and joy

Things are not going to be the same. But a party is still possible. Done properly, this might well be an opportunity to refresh the slightly tired format of the office party, as well as providing an occasion for people to come together, in person, at the end of what has been, for many, a tough year.

A party held inside might be made easier by keeping guests seated as much as possible (and certainly for food and drink). Entertainment where guests can remain seated, instead of dancing, would also be sensible. A stage magician, or a show, or an awards ceremony might all be possibilities. Also, ensure that there is a convenient outdoor space where people can mingle more easily (in a socially distanced manner) to provide an opportunity for people to speak with each other.

Outdoor events can be a little more flexible given the much lower risk. A Christmas market themed party might work, with live festive music, food stands, mulled wine and (rum enhanced) hot chocolate to drink. One business we have spoken to has suggested a drive in event with blue tooth presentation and films (allowing partners and families to join in). Other businesses are considering activity themed events, such as beach walk picnics and clay pigeon shooting.

The virtual party?

If the regulations tighten further, or it is simply too difficult for everyone to meet safely, we have all had plenty of practice with Teams and Zoom over the last few months. This option might involve sending everyone a hamper full of snacks and drinks for the night. Presentations can be delivered, speeches made, and games played. Also, alcohol is allowed (even immoderately).

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