The Christmas Party – Are You Prepared?

9 December 2016

The Christmas party is a great opportunity for employers and employees to celebrate the end of the working year. However, Christmas functions are infamous for employee injuries, allegations of inappropriate behaviour, harassment, discrimination and workplace health and safety concerns.

With the end of the year approaching, EMA Legal has prepared a list of important considerations for employers in preparing for their end of year celebrations.

STEP 1: Be aware of your obligations

Employers should be aware that their obligations to employees continue to apply at work Christmas functions. In particular, employers should consider:

  • Workplace Injuries – Injuries sustained at Christmas functions (including at external venues) can be considered work related for the purposes of workers compensation.
  • Bullying and Harassment – Employers have been held liable for sexual harassment at work Christmas functions. Even where harassment occurs outside the workplace at a social function, if there is a sufficient connection to employment or the employee’s duties, an employer can be held responsible. Inappropriate Kris Kringle gifts can be considered a form of harassment or discrimination.
  • WHS – Employers should consider who will monitor and supervise the event and whether the event location is suitable for the summer weather.
  • Violence and Abuse – Physical or verbal confrontations may occur in circumstances where employees are drinking at the Christmas function. Recently, an employee was dismissed for pushing a co-worker into a swimming pool at a Christmas function. The employee brought an unfair dismissal claim against his employer. While the employee was ultimately unsuccessful, the Commission stated clearly that employers who provide alcohol at work functions without taking steps to ensure it is consumed responsibly may be culpable for the events that occur as a result.
  • Embarrassing Incidents and Social Media – Over consumption of alcohol can contribute to embarrassing incidents, which can be captured on camera and cause embarrassment for employees, particularly if published on social media. Employers can find themselves dealing with bullying, harassment or workers compensation claims after the Christmas function has passed.

STEP 2: Be prepared – reduce your risk

It is critical for employers to take all reasonable steps to minimise their risks. Employers should consider:

  • Event Promotion – Employers should carefully consider how the Christmas function will be promoted and communicated to employees. Responsible consumption of alcohol should be encouraged and employees advised that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated.
  • Alcohol Considerations – To protect the reputation of employees and employers, employers should have a range of non-alcoholic options to drink, plenty of free drinking water, responsible service only by accredited individuals, no “top-up” table service and designated times for drinking alcohol.
  • Policies – Employers should have updated social media, drug and alcohol, code of conduct, anti-discrimination, equal opportunity and general occupational health and safety policies. These policies should be available and appropriately communicated to employees to minimise the risk of inappropriate or unlawful behaviour.
  • Complaints – Employers should have appropriate dispute resolution and disciplinary policies to address employee complaints of misconduct.
  • Training – Employees should be aware of what conduct is considered unlawful and unacceptable, be familiar with workplace policies and understand that unlawful and inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated. Managers should demonstrate and enforce appropriate standards of conduct. 

EMA Legal is available to assist with all your employment queries leading up to Christmas. Please contact us for advice specific to your circumstances.

We wish you a safe and enjoyable festive season.

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This Newsletter is made available to our clients and interested parties to provide immediate access to information about important changes and developments relevant to employers. The information contained in this publication should not be relied on as legal advice and should not be treated as a substitute for detailed advice that takes into account particular situations and the particular circumstances of your business.