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We all know that end of year Christmas celebrations can be fun, and provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate the achievements of your organisation and staff.

You’ll no doubt spend money, time and effort ensuring the celebration is a success, but make sure you also spend time ensuring the festivities are a positive end to the year for everyone involved.
All employers need to consider the potential hazards which may arise when holding an office Christmas party.

No matter if it’s getting together for casual drinks at the office, a lunch/dinner, an outing or a large function -these events are still considered to be work functions, and there are important legal obligations that you should take into consideration.

While it is well established that an employer’s obligations to protect an employees workplace rights extends outside of work hours; this liability even extends away from the physical premises of your organisation. Yet, it seems that year after year employers are still being faced with the aftermath of the festive season, when Christmas party shenanigans can go horribly wrong. Remember the external function or event need only to be linked with the workplace, for your obligations and liabilities to continue.

Employers can be held liable for injuries suffered by employees travelling to or from a work function, as well as any injury arising from the behaviour of employees during celebrations. “Injuries” can include; suffering from harassment or intimidation, unwanted sexual advances or being subjected to offensive language. All employees attending the party should be made aware of their responsibilities and what is considered appropriate behaviour.

What Employees Should Know

  • Consider holding a staff meeting, emailing all of your employees or posting a bulletin, reminding them what is expected of them at your function this year. You may wish to advise your staff of the following;
  • A Christmas party is still considered a work activity, and as such, normal disciplinary procedures will apply in the event of any harassment
  • If a function is held after hours, or off your organisations physical work premises, the usual standards of behaviour expected during working hours will still apply.
  • NB: Remember to advise staff that this conduct also extends to any conduct which may take place after the function ie. posting pictures and/or comments on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter
  • Your organisations policies relating drug and alcohol use, bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment, and any other forms misconduct, will still apply to all staff attending the function
  • Any employee found to be in breach of these policies, will be subject to disciplinary action.


Tips to Ensure Safe Celebrations

  • Your duty of care under Workers Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety Laws, cover employees at your Christmas functions, making their way home safely.
    Give some consideration to the type of function you are holding, and set the tone for the celebration.
  • You may wish to consider;
  1. If alcohol will be served, ensure it is served responsibly, and that there will be plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages available.
  2. Consider if you need to make arrangements to ensure employees can travel safely home. Is there safe public transport available? Do you need to provide a vehicle, book taxis or provide cab-charge vouchers?
  3. Start and finish times should also be clearly set out, including that, if staff choose to move onto another venue, after your organisations party has ended, the new venue is not part of the work sanctioned Christmas party.
  • Remind staff that Kris Kringle/Secret Santa gifts should not be offensive or sexual in nature.
  • Suggest a dress code for the party that keeps things professional.

Managing Misconduct Arising from Christmas Parties

  • If employees do not meet the standards of conduct expected of them, you should ensure that disciplinary action is taken in following days. Do not wait until the New Year to engage formal procedures, unless it is absolutely necessary. Remember, all allegations must be properly investigated before taking serious disciplinary action.

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