The festive season is almost upon us and amongst the decorating of trees, singing of Christmas carols and purchasing of gifts comes the annual work Christmas party.
Work Christmas parties can be a fantastic time for team building, rewarding and recognising the efforts of your employees throughout the year and a time to relax and socialise with work colleagues. However, in the race toward the end of the year, and an increase in office parties and social events, comes an increased likelihood of a workplace claim.
These claims can include harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, cyber bullying, discrimination, and workplace health and safety breaches.
It's important to remember that whist your staff may appear 'off the clock' at such events, the legal liability of employers for the conduct of their employees extends to work functions.
The issue of employer responsibility is highlighted in a large number of cases in which employees have successfully obtained compensation for injuries sustained or for wrongs (such as sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination) occurring at Christmas parties and work functions which got out of hand.
The Fair Work Ombudsman explains employers are ‘generally responsible for the health and safety of their staff at Christmas parties or events’ and should do ‘everything possible’ to protect their employees.
So, what are the reasonable steps that employers can take to mitigate the risks associated with the work Christmas Party?
- Ensure that your internal policies and procedures are up to date and in line with best practice, particularly your code of conduct and bullying and harassment policy. Further, due to the ever-increasing use of smart phones and social media; what happens at the work Christmas party no longer stays at the party thus reviewing the contents of your Social Media Policy and ensuring your team is aware is essential.
- Send a friendly email to employees before the event reminding them that while the party is a time to relax, it is still a work function. The email should also outline any rules and remind employees to be careful if consuming alcohol. Employees should also be made aware that if inappropriate behaviour does take place, they will be subject to disciplinary action.
- If alcohol is being served at the party, make sure it's served in line with legislation and is RSA compliant; precautions should be taken to ensure junior staff are not served alcoholic drinks during the function.
- Ensure that there's also enough food and non-alcoholic drinks available.
- Make arrangements for your employees to get home safely after the event; organise a bus, pre-order some taxis, or arrange for some designated drivers.
Before you put on your party hats, ensure your legal obligations are ticked off from your Christmas party checklist, to allow for a Grinch free (and more importantly, safe) Christmas party for your team to enjoy.