Reduce potential risks at your work events.

Being Sensible about the Work Christmas Party (and other social events)

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.

This year has been difficult for a number of employees (and employers!) across the country, and a Christmas or end of year celebration is a great way to demonstrate to staff that their hard work during these difficult times has not gone unnoticed.

However, 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 [2015] 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 off 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.

The COVID Risk

If you are able to have a Christmas party, managing the risk of COVID should come into the planning. This extends to the vaccination status of each employee and ensuring compliance to any applicable public health orders which may apply in your state / territory. Depending on your state’s restrictions, an employee’s vaccination status may be a deciding factor if an employee can attend, and if this is the case, employers should ensure they consider all alternative arrangements to ensure the employee does not feel excluded from the workplace or victimised by this decision.

Employers should consult their company Workplace COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, and make sure that they are aware of all the regulations in their state / territory when it comes to organising work events and determining who will be able to participate.

The other element of this is ensuring that your event is COVID safe, and follows the state’s restrictions, if there are any. Regardless, it is always going to be a good idea to ensure that the room is adequately ventilated, and any activities or games are conducted in a COVID safe manner.

ER Strategies’ Assistance

The festive season is an exciting time of year, however for many businesses it can be quite a hectic one too. With the exception of a minor office shut-down over the Christmas / New Year period, ER Strategies will continue to be available to assist employers with all things employee relations related.

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.

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