The Office Christmas Party - Protecting your staff and business

Dec 18th, 2017

Everyone enjoys a good Christmas party. It’s a time when everyone can enjoy themselves, knowing that they have the Christmas period to relax and recuperate. 

However, employers have a duty of care to their employees, and must take reasonable steps to identify and reduce any potential risks. The nature of workplace functions and consumption of alcohol increases the threshold for what is required of employers to take ‘reasonable steps.’ Failing to take reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate conduct at workplace functions can result in significant liability for the employer. 

Injuries suffered at the Christmas party can be the subject of a workers' compensation claim against the employer. Obligations to prevent sexual harassment or bullying also apply at the Christmas party and the responsible service of alcohol must be taken into account when managing these risks.

To ensure everything runs smoothly and there are no hiccups, it is best to take steps to mitigate the risk of sexual harassment, bullying, and accident claims. Consider implementing the following eleven ideas to protect your employees and your business

1.    Ensure that policies related to bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, and work health & safety are up-to-date and accessible. All employees must receive appropriate training regarding these policies.

2.    Choose a suitable venue and time for the party that is appropriate, safe and easily accessible for all employees. Do a risk assessment of the venue to identify potential hazards.

3.    Prior to the party go over some rules that must be adhered to, reiterating that although this is a party, the workplace policies and procedures will still be applicable. You can do this through an email stating that the party is a work function and employees should conduct themselves in an appropriate and responsible manner.

4.    Ensure that the chosen venue and activities do not present inappropriate risks. Undertake a risk assessment of the venue to identify safety hazards.

5.    Check your employee insurance policy to see if the function is covered.

6.    It is a good idea to put an employee in charge of monitoring the party, such as a senior manager to keep an eye out for any potential issues. This person should not consume alcohol and should have sufficient authority to have a quiet word to staff members if necessary.

7.    Monitor alcohol consumption by providing limited alcoholic beverage options and providing non-alcoholic drinks. Support the responsible service of alcohol.

8.    If an employee becomes too intoxicated, they should be asked to stop drinking. If necessary, they should leave the function with safe transport arranged.

9.    While an employer’s duty of care does not necessarily end when the party ends, it should be made clear that any post-party activities (other than travelling home) is considered outside of the work function and not endorsed by the company.

10.    If there are any issues at the party such as an incident or any complaints afterwards, they should be investigated promptly and any follow through procedures should be implemented as soon as possible.

11.    If employees are attending other functions during work hours, it is wise to ensure that they understand the requested standard of conduct. These events present equal risk and liability issues to internal functions. It may be advisable to provide taxi vouchers to ensure safe passage home.

By following the above eleven guidelines, employers will meet their duty of care obligation and end the year on a high note. 

From all the team at Wentworth Advantage’s HR Help Desk, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Be safe and enjoy!

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