BDO has introduced a "sober chaperone" policy for its Christmas parties to protect potentially vulnerable staff, as the UK's largest accounting firms seek to improve behaviour and culture after a series of scandals.
Heads of department at BDO, which has 3,700 UK staff, were told by the accounting group's chief operating officer to assign two people the job of staying sober at festive events to "be responsible in an emergency situation" and "ensure everybody can get home safely", according to an internal memo.
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A senior insider said the measure was designed to provide a "protective" role for staff at parties, but that it would also have a "deterrent" effect as it could prevent people from engaging in bad behaviour.
"I know these precautionary measures might sound slightly excessive to some, but I think they are sensible for the wellbeing of our people," the memo from the COO said.
The UK accounting sector has been hit by multiple scandals relating to improper conduct in the past year, with Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC, forcing out dozens of partners for behaviour including bullying and sexual harassment.
The Financial Reporting Council, the industry's regulator, has for the first time ordered the largest firms to disclose all complaints about harassment, bullying, alcohol and drug abuse.
The Big Four firms have implemented a number of policies to safeguard staff at Christmas parties where there has in the past been excess drinking, according to insiders.
KPMG said there had been an internal push for teams to hold Christmas lunches with little or no alcohol in recent years. The firm has sent staff a "guideline for employee conduct" in the run-up to Christmas that said "drinking too much alcohol should be discouraged" and reminded colleagues they still represented the firm outside working hours.
PwC has encouraged teams to have a "meal or a lunchtime event rather than a drinks party", one person at the firm said. It has also issued guidelines to staff ahead of its festive parties telling them to "look after each other", the person added.
A junior staff member at PwC told the Financial Times that after their department cut the meal from its annual party to save costs last year, it had to be reinstated to stop people becoming too drunk.
A spokesperson for Deloitte reminded staff that it expected them to "act professionally in the workplace or any other location when they are representing the firm".
The policies have come to light as a number of City businesses attempt to curb excess drinking at Christmas parties to police improper conduct, avoid negative headlines and reduce the risk of alienating employees that do not drink.
A heavy drinking culture at some corporate law firms was exposed in October when a lawyer at Freshfields was accused of groping a junior colleague at a work event where there was an "unlimited" supply of alcohol.
A number of events organisers said more employers were requesting "accessible" and "activity-based" parties rather than holding events in bars.
Ed Poland, co-founder of HireSpace, which books venues for Coca-Cola, Spotify and Bloomberg, said a shift towards activity-based events had pushed up the average spend on parties this year by about £6 per head.
Adam Breedon, founder of the bowling brand All Star Lanes and mini-golf venue Puttshack, said he had been inundated with requests from FTSE 100 companies in recent years. "You could quadruple the amount of experience-led things at Christmas and still have demand left over," he added.
Meanwhile, pub group Greene King reported a rise in companies booking lunchtime meals rather than evening dinners.
Ann Francke, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, welcomed the shift.
"So much harassment comes from drunken behaviour so you need to curb drunken behaviour and therefore you need to curb Christmas parties," she said.
Written by: Tabby Kinder and Alice Hancock
© Financial Times