As we all know, the work Christmas or end-of-year party can sometimes get a little out of control. People are keen to let their hair down and relax after a long year and, when alcohol comes into the equation (which is often), there is an increased risk of employees being injured or behaving inappropriately.
As an employer, you have an obligation to ensure the safety of employees in the workplace – and it’s critical to remember this obligation also extends to work-related functions – such as the Christmas or end-of-year party.
We’ve compiled a list of some key considerations to take into account when organising a work-related event and some tips to ensure things don’t get out of hand.
When Christmas parties get out of hand
We don’t want to sound like party poopers – the work Christmas or end-of-year party can be a great time for the team to relax, reflect on the past year and enjoy each other’s company.
But sometimes things can and do get out of hand. People can get a little silly and this can spiral out of control if you’re not careful – particularly when alcohol is involved.
Work Christmas or end-of-year party can (and unfortunately do) lead to inappropriate behaviours, unprofessional conduct and sexual harassment – amongst other things.
The positive duty to prevent
In a recent Akyra blog, we looked at employers’ positive duty to prevent sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
In essence, the ‘positive duty’ refers to your legal responsibility as an employer to take action to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
While this is currently a legal obligation only in the state of Victoria, the Federal Government recently introduced the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill, which includes provisions regarding employers’ legal obligation to actively prevent sexual harassment – rather than just reactively respond to it.
While this legislation has yet to pass Parliament, it signals to employers and business owners around the country that they need to ensure they are taking all reasonable efforts to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace – and this extends to any work-related event or function.
Another important consideration for you to keep in mind is the notion of vicarious liability. In simple terms, vicarious liability refers to an employer’s ‘joint’ responsibility for the actions of an employee.
Numerous legal cases have demonstrated that employers can face serious consequences for the poor behaviour of employees, including sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination.
Importantly, vicarious liability doesn’t just apply to office or work settings. It also extends to settings outside work or the office where it can be proven there is a connection to the employment of the individual in question – e.g. if a group of employees go to a night club after being at the work Christmas or end-of-year party.
So while the work Christmas or end-of-year party is an important opportunity for your team to relax and connect, it is important (for both you and your employees) that you mitigate the potential risks associated with these types of events.
Firstly, it is important to clearly communicate to all employees that the work Christmas or end-of-year party is a work-related event. Ensure employees understand that workplace policies still apply.
While it is important to let employees know workplace policies still apply during these types of events, it is also worth having a refresher on these policies beforehand. Any refresher should include a clear emphasis on workplace sexual harassment policies.
If you’re planning to serve alcohol at your party – make sure it is served responsibly and employees aren’t drinking excessively. If an employee is drinking to excess, organise for them to be taken home (not drive home).
Finally, you should clearly communicate how your employees can report an incident if something does occur – and take any complaints seriously.
Akyra’s key takeaways
- The work Christmas or end-of-year party doesn’t need to be a boring event, but, as an employer, you need to be acutely aware of your responsibility to ensure the safety of all employees.
- You should clearly communicate that, as it is a work-related event, workplace policies still apply. Conduct a refresher on relevant policies beforehand – and be sure to include a focus on workplace sexual harassment policies.
- If alcohol is being served, make sure this is done responsibly and attendees are not drinking excessively.
- If an incident does occur, respond promptly and appropriately to any complaints.
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
Akyra can help your business to assist and support all your questions and concerns related to HR concerns and work-related events. Please contact Akyra on 07 3204 8830 or book a free 30-minute consultation for an obligation-free conversation.
Disclaimer – Reliance on Content
The material distributed is general information only. The information supplied is not intended to be legal or other professional advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. You should seek legal or professional advice in relation to your specific situation.
https://www.ashurst.com/en/news-and-insights/legal-updates/respect-at-work-laws-introduced-a-positive-duty-to-prevent-sexual-harassment/, https://community.hrdaily.com.au/profiles/blogs/office-christmas-party-and-sexual-harassment-and-complaints-in?xg_source=activity, https://www.lawyersforemployers.com.au/vicarious-liability-drinking-human-resources-drunk-misconduct-duty-of-care-health-and-safety; https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=44ca5ec9-96c6-4327-a47c-c858472e4c65; https://www.hrdaily.com.au/news/bill-introduces-positive-duty-to-prevent-s-xual-harassment-10829; https://www.hrdaily.com.au/news/10608;