Work Christmas parties are a chance for employees to let their hair down, celebrate their achievements from the past working year, and can also be a great chance for your employees to bond.
Although the work Christmas party can be fun, it can also be fraught with dangers or concerns for employers. Employees may well be very excited to see their colleagues again and to socialise away from the computer screens. However, due to extended absences from the physical work environment, employees may also need a refresher on workplace policies and how they apply outside the workplace, and a reminder of acceptable conduct at work-related events prior to these events taking place, in order to reduce any instances of poor behaviour.
Dangers that can occur as a result of Christmas party conduct can include unfair dismissal cases due to dismissal for bad behaviour at the party. For example, in Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey Joint Venture  FWC 3156 (26 June 2015), it was found that an employee had been unfairly dismissed after he had behaved offensively at a work Christmas party event.
The employee had used offensive language to several of his colleagues and told a female colleague his mission for the night was to find out what colour her undergarments were.
Ultimately, the FWC found that the employee was unfairly dismissed because the employer did not apply their sexual harassment policy consistently throughout the company and this alleged misconduct had been an isolated incident for the employee involved.
Whilst the ‘Respect @ Work’ changes have now made it clear that sexual harassment is a form of serious misconduct, employers must ensure processes of implementing and enforcing policies are clear and consistent to ensure they are protected in the event of such claims.
Lesson for Employers
As an employer, you need to be proactive about protecting yourself from potential claims being bought forward by employees. As the work Christmas party has a close connection to the workplace, policies around bullying, anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace health and safety should still be considered to be applicable.
Some steps an employer can take to reduce risk at the work Christmas party are:
- Ensure that all your employees are made aware that the Christmas event is still considered work and that they are responsible for their behaviour.
- Remind all employees of policies that would be applicable at the party, such as drug and alcohol, workplace health and safety, and sexual harassment policies.
- Remind employees that failure to adhere to workplace policies at the event can result in disciplinary action.
- Ensure that responsible service of alcohol is adhered to and that underage employees do not have access to alcohol.
- Set specific start and finish times for the formal company event and that any “after parties” which follow on from the event are undertaken by employees in their own time and are not endorsed by the employer.
- Organise travel arrangements for employees to get home safely after the event.
- Designate a responsible contact person at the event to oversee the event, monitor behaviour and provide assistance for employees if they have any concerns or need supervision.
ER Strategies’ Assistance
The festive season is an exciting time of year, however, for many businesses, it can be quite a hectic one too. The Christmas period increases compliance challenges with events like public holidays, work functions, staff on leave and extended trading hours. If you are having any issues with employment compliance, or if you need assistance during this period, get in contact with us on 1300 55 66 37, or contact us here.