TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS: WORK CHRISTMAS PARTIES

TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS: WORK CHRISTMAS PARTIES

It’s that time of year again! Getting your employees together for a work Christmas party is a great way to celebrate the end of the working year, however it is important to remember that Christmas parties are still a “work function” and employers need to be mindful of their continued duty to their employees.

THE RISKS

 Christmas parties provide employees with the opportunity to have a few drinks and socialise with their colleagues in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. This mix of alcohol and informal atmosphere, however inevitably increases the risk of employees being injured and inappropriate behaviour occurring, such as sexual harassment and bullying. Accordingly, employers need to educate employees about expected standards of behaviour and have mechanisms in place to prevent any issues arising.

TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS

 Below we have outlined six tips for employers in preparation for their Christmas / end of year party:

1. Implement policies and procedures which deal with the behaviour expected of employees at work functions, e.g. a drug and alcohol policy or sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying policy.

It is common that policies include that alcohol should not be consumed in excess at work functions and that policies like the code of conduct, work, health and safety and sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying policies will apply.  You should ensure employees are educated on these policies and procedures and give employees a copy of any such policies so that they are aware of what is expected of them.

2. Send a notification out to employees before the Christmas party reminding them that:

a. Christmas parties are still work functions and that their behaviour at the party, must comply with the company’s policies and procedures. You should set out clearly what these policies and procedures are; and

b. Employees should make travel arrangements to get home safely at the end of the function, and not to drive if they have consumed alcohol over the legal limit.

If you are holding the Christmas party at a location which is a significant distance from the workplace, you should also consider arranging transport for your employees to and from the venue.

3. Ensure that there is sufficient food available at the function proportionate to the quantity of alcohol available.

4. If you are going to have an open bar, you need to ensure the responsible service of alcohol.

5. Nominate an employee or employees from the management team to supervise the Christmas party and deal with any issues which arise at the event.

6. If a complaint arises about behaviour at the Christmas party, you need to make sure that the complaint is dealt with promptly and that it is investigated if required.

 When it goes wrong- a case example

 Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey Joint Venture [2015] FWC 3156 provides a great example of a Christmas party gone wrong and what this can mean for an employer.

In this case, an employee had consumed a large amount of alcohol at his work Christmas party and been involved in a number of incidences including:

1. Sexually harassing an employee by making uninvited propositions towards her;

2. Bullying another employee on two occasions, including stating to her “I thought you were a little XXXXX but you know you’re okay and I like you”;

3. Telling a manager to “XXXX off”;

4. Sexually harassing an employee by kissing her;

5. Harassing an employee on two occasions, including asking her “What do you even do? No seriously. Who the XXXX are you?  What do you even do here?”; and

6. Sexually harassing an employee by saying “My mission tonight is to find out what colour knickers you have on”.

This behaviour would to most justify a fair dismissal, right? Well, not in this case.

The Fair Work Commission held that the dismissal of the employee for his behaviour at the Christmas party was unfair, ultimately because the substance of the allegations against him were never truly put to him.  The Commission concluded that he was only asked general, open questions and was therefore provided with no opportunity to respond.

This means that employers need to ensure that when an investigation takes place, employees are afforded procedural fairness by fully explaining the allegations made against them, so that they can adequately provide a response.

If you need assistance to prepare for your Christmas party or dealing with any issues which arise from the Christmas party, contact the team at HR Law for assistance.

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