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Risks of Work-Related Social Events

Work-related social events can be enjoyable and are a way of developing better working relationships. By being aware of, and being prepared for the potential unintended consequences, many of the risks associated with these events can be reduced or removed.

Social events which originate, or are sponsored by the employer are sufficiently work-related to expose your company to a number of areas of concern, including:

  • Occupational Safety and Health issues,
  • Anti-discrimination,
  • Sexual harassment.

As with the normal workplace, the employer has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure employee safety and health and to provide an environment free from harassment and discrimination. Inappropriate behaviour at staff functions, which can be attributed to “good cheer” which often accompany these social events, can lead to employers being held liable.

To limit potential risks below are some preventive tips:

  • Remind employees that functions are considered an extension of the workplace, so the same rules apply, even when the party is held off-site. Refer employees to code of conduct policy.
  • Remind employees of the company’s Sexual harassment, Workplace Victimisation, and Anti-Discrimination policies.
  • Issue a friendly reminder to employees about the dangers of excessive drinking and drink driving.
  • If the giving of ‘Secret Santa’ is part of the function, remind employees that gifts need to be appropriate, as this is not the opportunity to embarrass or humiliate. 
  • Be culturally aware and sensitive to the fact that not all staff celebrate Christmas.
  • If alcohol is available make sure that there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks. 
  • Take reasonable steps to ensure the supply of alcohol is limited.
  • Make sure that the venues and activities are appropriate and do not put people at risk.
  • Provide supervision to prevent inappropriate behaviour and excessive drinking. Intoxicated employees should be asked tactfully to stop drinking and if necessary, to leave the function with safe transport arranged to ensure they do not drive.
  • Set definite start and finish times.
  • Ensure employees have made arrangements to get home safely, such as public transport, and taxis.

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