Christmas parties are a great time to celebrate the end of the year and all the achievements of workers. It is a time laden with festivities both in and outside of work, with spirits often high and people excited for upcoming time off and festivities. However, these morale boosting events are fraught with employment law risks.
This year has been particularly tough for many businesses, with some employers fearing this “silly season” may be a little more “wild” than usual. It is important for both employees and employers to remember that Christmas Parties, whether they take place within the four walls of the workplace or not and irrespective of whether they are after hours Christmas parties are still work functions. Employees must be compliant with all the employer’s policies and procedures and any applicable employment related laws. Therefore, conduct such as intoxication, sexual harassment, and other misconduct at these events can have a direct impact upon an employment relationship.
To help both employers and employees navigate their Christmas parties and celebrations we have done some research and included some practical tips to ensure everyone returns in the new year.
Top Three Tips
1. Set and Communicate Expectations
Most employers have policies that dictate expectations. These may include drug and alcohol policies, sexual harassment policies, bullying policies and dress codes. Further, employers are also bound by various requirements set out in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and other law including anti-discrimination legislation and workplace health and safety laws.
Employers should ensure all employees are supplied with and educated on these policies and any other expectations the employer has in relation to behaviour and conduct at the event. Clear expectations leave less room for ambiguity. It is often helpful to include, in policies, that such policies apply to behaviour at workplace functions.
Communicate the expectations of the Christmas party to employees in writing. Remind employees that policies continue to apply during the Christmas Party and any inappropriate behaviour may lead to disciplinary action being taken in the same way it would as if it took place during work hours or within the workplace.
2. Remember Workplace Health and Safety Obligations
Conduct a risk assessment and ensure that all reasonable steps are taken to mitigate the risks. Have plans and procedures in place that address potential risks, issues or emergencies.
Employers have an obligation to ensure the responsible service of alcohol. It is therefore important to monitor alcohol consumption and intoxication. It is helpful to ensure there is adequate food available to employees and that employees have a safe way home.
Set clear times for the Christmas Party including a start and end time. This assists in creating a definitive boundary around the Christmas Party.
3. Monitor and Address Behaviour
Have a manager or nominated person to supervise employees and monitor the Christmas Party, including dealing with any issues on the day/night. This person can also assist in monitoring any OH&S hazards and ensuring the safety of the event.
Make sure any complaint or issue that arises from the Christmas Party is dealt with promptly and in the same manner as any other disciplinary issue or investigation.
If you see something, say something early. Management must ensure that any antisocial or other inappropriate behaviour is stopped as soon as possible including any behaviour breaching bullying and harassment and sexual harassment laws and policies. Employers should consider asking employees engaging in such behaviour to leave as soon as possible.
If you are an employer or an employee and require any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment Law Team on (02) 4721 6200.
Written by Amelia Hatton.