Festive season functions are great for team-building and rewarding staff. However, when staff let their hair down in the spirit of the season (especially when alcohol is added to the mix), anything can happen, and unfortunately sometimes does!
This article was written by Australian Business Lawyers. This law firm specialises in workplace law, as well as offering corporate and commercial law services.
Employers can be liable for inappropriate statements and conduct that occurs at work-related Christmas celebrations. Such conduct can amount to sexual harassment or other forms of harassment (such as racial harassment). Particular danger areas include ‘Kris Kringle’ gift giving, joke staff ‘awards’, and skits/performances that may offend certain groups.
Occupational health and safety
Employers also have responsibilities to ensure the safety of all employees at work-related Christmas functions by taking steps to prevent inappropriate conduct, including:
ensuring responsible service and consumption of alcohol, together with appropriate quantities of food and non-alcoholic beverages
having a code of conduct and drug and alcohol policy in place prior to Christmas functions, and reminding employees of those policies before the function
training employees and managers in relation to the standard of conduct required at work functions
making appropriate transport arrangements if alcoholic beverages are served
having appropriate monitoring and supervision at the party
having a complaints process
taking appropriate and timely action if issues arise.
These steps promote compliance with OH&S obligations and can help to minimise workers compensation claims, breach of OH&S obligations, and other legal claims such as sexual harassment.
It is also important to have clear policies and procedures governing the conduct, behaviour, and expectations of employees at Christmas functions to enable the employer to take disciplinary action against non-complying employees in appropriate cases.
For the above reasons, it is important for employers to prepare for Christmas functions because it is easier to take appropriate steps before the function to avoid Christmas party fiascos than having to deal with any aftermath.
Documentation that can help
A sister publication to WorkplaceInfo, HR Advance, includes a number of documents that can help subscribers minimise the risks associated with work Christmas functions. Those documents include:
Christmas Party Letter to Employees
Drug and Alcohol Policy
Code of Conduct
Anti-Discrimination & Equal Employment
OHS General Policy