Christmas: Your Questions Answered

11 December 2017

As silly season rolls around, reasons to go for a post-work drink or two become increasingly apparent.

Work Christmas parties can be great examples of healthy team bonding and a healthy means of giving back to your employees. However, as attempts to maximise the provision of free alcohol can arise and turn dangerous, it is important to ensure correct management procedures are in place.

Here are a few common questions and our best practical advice to get you through unhindered and powering through the holiday period.

  1. What are my health and safety obligations during (and after) a Christmas party?

    You must be aware of the wide scope of your obligations as an employer, where functions are involved. In particular, as an employer your non-delegable duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your employees extends to your work Christmas function.

    Where employee misconduct occurs, an employer may be liable for failures to enforce liquor licensing laws, the responsible service of alcohol and the safety of all employees present. Wherever possible, we suggest that you engage the services of experienced bar staff to ensure that any issues around the service of alcohol are covered to the greatest extent and for the full duration of the event. A failure to do so has, in the past, seen employers deemed liable for employee intoxication and the actions that have followed.

    A venue with adequate lighting, seating, and food may seem like an obvious suggestion, however we still see large scale problems resulting from employers failing to identify these basic requirements and minor complications snowballing into compensation claims. Security and supervision are advisable to ensure the safety of your employees, keep any unwanted guests out, and uphold minimum behavioural standards to prevent nasty surprises for employees or employers come Monday morning. If the function is held externally, adequate transport should be organised to ensure the safety of all involved, and any after party should be identified as a non-work event.

  2. Should we have a Code of Conduct in place ahead of the Christmas party?

    In short, yes. A Code of Conduct allows employers to set terms on acceptable behaviour, boundaries for the event and, if drafted and implemented appropriately, will reduce your liability and maximise your own legal rights.

    A decent Code of Conduct will consider:
    – Anti-discrimination, harassment and bullying;
    – Sexual harassment;
    – Work health and safety;
    – Intoxication;
    – Behavioural standards;
    – Termination; and
    – Various forms of risk management.

    We recommend sending a reminder of your Code of Conduct along with the invitation to the party, and another reminder in the lead up to the event that behavioural workplace policies should be maintained.

  3. What actions can I take where misconduct has occurred?

    Again, we recommend that you engage appropriate techniques to ensure you are not held liable should an incident occur. In the past, courts have determined that termination of employment for bad behaviour, including intoxication, sexual harassment and verbal abuse, was unwarranted; termination for threatening violence and physical assault, however, was reasonable.

    Prevention and risk management should be any employer’s focus. Obviously, at times unfortunate incidents arise, and it is important to engage proper legal strategies to prevent any serious damage to the business and its brand.

Has our blog come too late? Contact Hentys for employment relations, workers compensation and health & safety advice.

Hentys have refined their expertise in such matters for over 40 years and we recommend engaging our services to ensure sound prevention, risk management and mitigation strategies are employed to protect you and your business.