Avoiding those Christmas party incidents

With the Christmas season nearly upon us, it is timely to take steps to minimise the risks of incidents occurring at end-of-year functions which can otherwise prove very costly for small to medium businesses.

The best practice is to put in place policies and procedures prior to the event that will assist you and your staff to enjoy your Christmas party, incident-free.

Christmas functions provide the perfect opportunity for team-building, celebrating the year’s achievements and rewarding staff for their efforts. However, in a relaxed environment, with alcohol often clouding judgement, unfortunate incidents can occur such as harassment or workplace accidents and injury. It is critical that employers understand their duty of care to employees in order to minimise risk to both their staff and to the company. This duty of care extends to bullying, harassment, discrimination and occupational health and safety, regardless of whether the work-related function is off-site or outside normal work hours. And this also includes the trip home.

WHS and sexual harassment laws don’t mean that you and your staff can’t have a good time and celebrate, however there are some sensible things you can do to reduce the risk of something going wrong. Here are some tips:

Before the function:

Ensure you have the following up-to-date policies in place and remind your employees about the content of these policies:

  • Code of Conduct
  • Bullying and Harassment policy
  • Drug and Alcohol policy
  • WHS General Policy
  • EEO Policy

Communicate with all employees in a friendly manner, reiterating that:

  • even if the function is off-site or outside normal work hours, the usual work-related rules and policies apply. And this includes the trip home.
  • unacceptable misbehaviour in regards to any of the above policies could result in disciplinary action.
  • disciplinary action could be taken if employees fail to turn up for work the next day because of over-indulging.

* Remind staff that Kris Kringle/Secret Santa gifts should not be offensive or sexual in nature.
* Put in place a complaints process and ensure all employees are aware of the process.
Provide appropriate training to both managers and employees in relation to the standard of conduct required at work-related functions.
Provide appropriate training to managers on how to recognise and manage risk and respond appropriately to complaints.

If you require assistance with preparing or updating policies, implementing a complaints process, training management and staff or preparing an appropriate letter to employees, please contact us straight away.

 At the function:

Serve alcohol responsibly, with plenty of food as well as low alcohol and non-alcoholic options.
* Ensure any bar or waiting staff are briefed on limiting alcohol to people who are becoming intoxicated.
* Ensure employees under 18 do not drink alcohol.
* Ensure all management lead by example.
* Appoint a manager or yourself to monitor and supervise the party.
Appoint a manager or yourself to whom employees can confer with if an issue arises.

After the function:

Pre-emptive steps to prevent harassment and injury are crucial as the employers’ liability extends to events which take place after the official work function ends.

* Plan travel arrangements home from the function – plan to end the party before public transport stops running, provide the phone numbers for local taxi companies (or cabcharge vouchers) and encourage staff to use them.

The morning after:

* Take immediate, appropriate action to address any complaints. If a claim is made, seek advice to minimise the financial cost and the risk to your business and its reputation that could result from litigation.

* If a staff member has had too much to drink or too late a night and needs to drive or operate machinery the next day give them either time-off or alternative work until they are fit to resume normal tasks.


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