Work Christmas parties are a chance for employees to let their hair down, celebrate their achievements from the past working year, and it can also be a great chance for your employees to bond.
However, although the work Christmas party can be fun, it can also be fraught with dangers.
Such dangers include unfair dismissal cases due to dismissal for behaviour at a work Christmas party. 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 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 had been an isolated incident for the employee.
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 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 are 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.