Richard Steer offers season’s greetings to you all, and hopes your office party doesn’t finish up in the Sunday papers, A&E or, indeed, the High Court

It’s Christmas time and, without wishing to come over all Ebenezer Scrooge, it is not only a time to be jolly, but also a time to be jolly careful if you’re an employer with a duty of care to all those enjoying company revelry.

For me, the festive season kicked off in the traditional manner: the Hurley Palmer cocktail party, which is held in the splendid setting of Drapers’ Hall on 31 October. This allows a good eight weeks for the liver to acclimatise to the Christmas onslaught.

After that, parties follow in rapid succession, with guests often attending two or three a night. One of my favourites is the Sir Robert McAlpine event at the Park Lane InterContinental, which attracts more politicians than the passing of most bills in parliament. I also have affection for the Land Securities party at Claridges, as the host is sufficiently confident in its position to invite several of its major competitors.

Companies seem to vie for interesting locations or gimmicks to attract as many revellers as possible. I remember attending an architect’s party in a smallish venue with a completely mirrored wall designed to create the effect of greater space and twice as many people. This probably saved on the catering bill, but it was a nightmare trying to find the door to leave and I am still not sure whether I thanked the host or his reflection.

But it is employers, with their staff Christmas party, who have to be the most careful. I remember explaining to one of our favourite clients that we held our firm’s party in a nightclub from 12 till 4. He exclaimed, with a note of envy, that we were an extremely progressive employer – until I explained it was 12 noon until 4pm.

We seem to spend as long choosing the venue as we do on the most detailed client submission. I long ago learned that it is wise to keep clear of the decision-making process, which can be fraught with claims of anti-vegetarianism and meanness of spirit towards beverage supplies, not to mention rows about the date, time and location.

One chap set himself on fire with a flaming sambuca following the excitement of opening his Christmas cracker

Also, if there is an injury or accident as a result of over-consumption, the employer’s management of any event could well be taken into consideration. I now think back with horror to one chap setting himself on fire with a flaming sambuca and ending up in A&E following the excitement of opening his complimentary Christmas cracker.

People do get carried away at Christmas parties. I know of one director who decided to make a pass at the company’s head of human resources – not a particularly bright move. In another incident that allegedly took place at a tabloid newspaper, one of the sub-editors attempted an amorous assault on the lady editor. Apart from receiving a stern rebuff, he also found himself the subject of ridicule for the next year, with a spoof front page circulated around the office, complete with the headline “Pervy Pete in Kiss Clinch Shocker” and a photograph.

The advent of the camera and video phone allows the office to relive party foibles all year round. Whereas before there was drunken deniability, now all those special moments can be captured and shared.

But let’s not put a major dampener on what should be a time to let your hair down. We are all individuals and have to take responsibility for our actions. The point of a party is you can always leave when you want to – unless you’re on a boat on the Thames, in which case it would be a cold swim home. Or perhaps there is a duty of care to provide a fully crewed lifeboat, just in case.

This year’s been a good one for the industry; let us hope 2007 is even better. I trust you will have a good Christmas, a prosperous new year and will enjoy yourself in a trouble-free, non-litigious way over the next few weeks.