Another year, another office Christmas party – and another slight concern that someone might just take it that bit too far.

While the festive period brings out the best in some people, it also seems to have the effect of robbing otherwise sensible people of good judgement. It’s unfortunately not uncommon for hangovers to include more than just a headache and a slight queasiness – the worst cases can include inappropriate comments, sexual harassment and even violence.

And that’s before you bring social media into the equation. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and more, there are endless opportunities for festive excess to turn from a private embarrassment into a very public problem.

For business owners, there’s a clear risk to all of this. Just as something which begins on the dancefloor can end up on Facebook in a split second, so too can something on social media quite easily end up in the press. That can mean disciplinary action for the employees concerned – or dismissal in some circumstances – and serious reputational damage for the employer.

No-one likes to be the one to take the fun out of a party, but some precautions are always a good idea at this time of year. It might not be well-received by some staff, but it’s necessary because so few employers actually understand the potential business implications or how to deal with them in the first place. You might be surprised, for example, to discover there’s no automatic right for employers to expect their staff to behave to a particular standard.

In fact, if you take a dim view of office party behaviour and take disciplinary action as a result – without having laid the ground rules up front – your staff might be able to argue they weren’t aware of what was expected of them.

That being the case, you need to let people know what’s acceptable. Having a few drinks and a great time? Absolutely. Inappropriate or unwelcome comments towards colleagues, or any kind of aggression for any reason? Absolutely not.

Similarly, posting suggestive, offensive or otherwise questionable images onto social media channels should be a definite no-no. While it might seem like common sense, it’s important to make it clear to your staff that you expect a certain standard of behaviour. And yes, they need to know that extends to their personal social media profiles if they’re posting work-related content.

Of course, for the vast majority of companies these kinds of issues will never be a serious problem. But employers should also remember that a fact of staff developing good relationships with customers now often involves them connecting with each other on Facebook.

Even if an individual doesn’t post a picture themselves, someone else can post a picture of them and ‘tag’ them in that picture. It’s then possible for your Facebook connections to see those images via the tag, even if they’re not connected to the person who posted them.

As you can see, it’s a potential minefield. But clearly the main motivation for any Christmas party is to engender a sense of fun and camaraderie – and a chance to blow off steam after what has hopefully been a successful year.

It’s possible to achieve that without invoking Ebenezer Scrooge, though. To avoid being haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past for years to come, it’s relatively simple to draw together a policy of dos and don’ts – everyone should be happy to stick by it and enjoy the festivities without any drama.

If you would like any further information on any employment issues please contact Ann Frances Cooney, Senior Associate, Employment on 0141 574 2312 or AFCooney@hbjgateley.com