On the first day of Christmas………employers need to consider their responsibilities toward employees attending the annual Christmas party.

Posted by Luke Mitchell on 13 November 2014

A Jolly time for all

Company Christmas parties are a reward to employees who have worked hard over the preceding 12 months. However, if not managed diligently, work Christmas parties 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 behavioural standards are upheld by all in attendance.

Behavioural standards and work, health and safety

It is important to remember that Company Christmas parties are not social gatherings between friends but employees who are still bound by the relevant workplace policies and codes of conduct that apply on a daily 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. Under the Work Health and Safety Act, this liability may extend to any employee’s partners or guests that are in attendance. Employers must understand that they may be held liable even in circumstances where a person has left the party, has 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 behaviours, 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 maintaining ethical and culturally sensitive behaviour prior to the function or activity. 

Alcohol Consumption

Many companies have enacted work health and safety policies 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 parties at a venue that provides for the sale of alcohol, or is often the case, providing alcohol for 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 employers can take to ensure that celebrations are fun and safe for everyone attending a work Christmas function.