On the first day of Christmas........ employers need to know what responsibilities they have towards their employees at the annual Christmas party

Posted on 30 November 2012

Work Christmas Parties – a jolly time for all

Company Christmas parties are often a reward to employees who have worked hard over the preceding 12 months. However, if not managed diligently, work Christmas party's can create severe liability for business owners leaving them open to accusations of being in breach of their obligations. As office Christmas parties begin to sweep across the nation over the next 5 weeks, employers must act now to ensure that behavioral standards are upheld by all in attendance.

Behavioral standards and work, health and safety

It is important to remember that Company Christmas parties are not social gatherings between a group of mates. They are gatherings of employees.. Employees are still bound by the relevant workplace policies and codes of conduct that apply to them on an everyday basis in the workplace environment. There simply is no excuse or exemption for employees to behave in an inappropriate manner toward each other at a work Christmas function, dinner or party.
In addition, where alcohol is available, employers are not only responsible for the health and safety of everyone at the function, but also when people leave the company party. This liability may extend to any employees partners or guests that are in attendance under the Work Health and Safety Act. Employers must understand that they may be held liable even in circumstances where a person has left the party and continued to drink heavily at another location and is injured as a result of the intoxication. For this reason alone, employers must look to set strict boundaries for employees to ensure that everyone's safety is secured and a good time is had by all.

Boundaries for employees

Many employers are of the belief that by producing workplace policies for sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviors they will be protected from liability at workplace Christmas functions and activities. However, in reality, this is not the case. As most workplace environments are filled with employees from diverse backgrounds, it is imperative that employers communicate with staff about maintain ethical behaviour prior to the function or activity. Take for example the practice of giving Kris Kringle gifts. It is often worthwhile for Employees to be warned about what is an appropriate gift. In addition, where employers allow for a fancy dress or themed event, they must ensure that they are not likely to cause offence to anyone. Prior to any workplace festivity it is important for the employer to remind employees of their obligations to not engage in any inappropriate behaviour.

Alcohol Consumption

Many companies have enacted work health and safety policy's for the consumption of alcohol in their workplace. These policies may contain a zero tolerance approach toward alcohol. However, it is important for employers to first ensure that they are not in breach of their own alcohol workplace policy in circumstances where they are encouraging the consumption of alcohol by either hosting the party's at a venue that provides for the sale of alcohol, or is often the case, providing alcohol for all employees for free. Where the venue for a Christmas party allows for the consumption of alcohol, employers should ensure that there is plenty of food and non alcoholic drinks available to reduce the risk of people becoming heavily intoxicated. Employers should also make enquiries with the venue's management to find out whether they will supply security for the event. Regardless, it may be beneficial for everyone in attendance for the company to organize for at least several senior staff members to remain sober just in case an accident or emergency occurs.

Overall safety at Christmas parties

Employers can be held liable for injuries that occur to employees at company parties. Nonetheless, simple things like ensuring there are no fire hazards at the venue or providing all staff who have been consuming alcohol with free transportation home can help mitigate the risk of unnecessary litigation or potential fines. A good way to prevent accidents at venues where alcohol is being consumed by employees is to perform a risk analysis and survey the venue to ensure that clearways exist. By moving furniture and creating more space employers can restrict the potential for employers tripping or failing over obstacles as a result of being tipsy.

A fun and relaxing time for all

While ethical behaviour and codes of conduct must be upheld by all at work functions, there are many practical and easy steps that employers can take to ensure that celebrations are fun and safe for everyone attending a work Christmas function.