Work Christmas parties are a great way to celebrate the end of a good year and to reward your hard working staff, but they can also be fraught with danger, according to Miles Heffernan from Employer Advisors.
“Many a business has ended up with a messy and costly human resources nightmare after the annual Christmas party, and plenty of workers have lost their job” Mr Heffernan said.
Whether you’re planning something big, or something intimate, something onsite or at a venue, we have some tips to make sure that you don’t end up with a costly unfair dismissal or sexual harassment claim.
Christmas parties are often a source of poor workplace behaviour
Wherever there is free booze and a festive spirit, there is an increased risk of poor workplace behaviour.
Sometimes that behaviour has resulted in workers losing their job, like the case of Damien McDaid who was sacked after drunkenly throwing a fully clothed colleague into a swimming pool at a work Christmas party.
Then there was the case of motor mechanic Jeremy Ryman, who was fired after a drunken expletive-laden outburst during his work Christmas party.
Both workers lodged claims for unfair dismissal in the Fair Work Commission.
So what can you do to make sure your business doesn’t end up embroiled in a post Christmas party mess?
Set the rules and make sure everybody knows
As an employer, you are responsible for the conduct of your employees at all work organised events, including Christmas parties.
That means all of the same occupational health and safety and harassment policies that apply to a normal work day are also relevant during any work function, regardless of whether it is a social setting.
“Legally speaking, a work Christmas function is still considered a workplace, so employers are responsible for the conduct of their employees,” Mr Heffernan warned.
“All businesses should already have clear and stringent workplace policies in place that cover discrimination and sexual harassment, and those policies are still in effect at a work function.”
Mr Heffernan says prior to the event, you should remind your staff of these policies and the expectations of behaviour during the party.
Ban the booze or consider contingencies
The best way to minimise risk at a work Christmas party is to make it alcohol free, but if you do choose to provide booze, make sure there is plenty of food and water and soft drink provided.
It is good idea to provide transport options for your staff at the end of the night, whether it be a bus or taxi vouchers or the company Uber account.
“It might sound like an extra expense, but making sure everyone gets home safe and sound, and leaves the event in one piece is money well spent,” Mr Heffernan said.
Make sure the event has a designated start and finish time, and make sure everyone leaves the designated venue promptly.
“If your staff want to party on at another venue, that’s fine, but do not endorse such activity, that way, there is a clearly understood end of the company’s responsibility,” Mr Heffernan said.
Designate a manager or supervisor to stay sober
Employer Advisors recommends that at least one senior manager or supervisor not drink any alcohol and remain sober during the party.
This will leave them with a clear head to handle any problems or issues that might arise before they get out of hand.
“It might not sound like fun having to stay sober all night while everyone else is letting their hair down and having fun, but look at it as an insurance policy that could save you big bucks in the long run,” Mr Heffernan said.
If you are having trouble managing difficult staff or are planning to dismiss an employee, we can help you avoid a costly and time consuming unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission.
Please call our team of industrial relations professionals at Employer Advisors today on 1300 853 837.
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