It’s time again to unwind and thank employees at the long-awaited Christmas Party!

But at risk of being the Grinch, a Christmas party is still a work function. Employers still owe a duty of care to their employees and employees can still be expected to behave appropriately to each other.

Risk-managing the Christmas party starts by heeding this counsel by the Fair Work Commission:

"it is contradictory and self-defeating for an employer to require compliance with its usual standards of behaviour at a function but at the same time to allow the unlimited service of free alcohol. If alcohol is supplied in such a manner it becomes entirely predictable that some individuals will consume an excessive amount and behave inappropriately."

Employers should also know that:

  • under anti-discrimination laws, an employer can be held responsible for actions of employees in relation to harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination; and
  • injuries suffered at the Christmas party can in certain circumstances be claimed under Workers’ Compensation, so the potential for a costly claim can be just as high as operating dangerous equipment!

Some practical steps an employer can take to minimise risks and maximise everyone having a good time are:

  • having an appropriate and up-to-date conduct policy in place that is easily accessible to staff;
  • reinforcing to employees before the event that the Christmas party is a work-related event and that workplace policies and rules therefore apply;
  • reminding employees that failing to comply with the employer's policies during the event may be a basis for disciplinary action which could lead to termination;
  • being aware of religious and cultural diversity;
  • ensuring that the venue will provide responsible service of alcohol and have plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks available;
  • ensuring alcohol is served only during set times for the event;
  • if possible, holding the event in a separate area from other functions;
  • limiting alcohol service so it can be managed, rather than have an open bar;
  • being aware that junior employees may be under age to consume alcohol;
  • providing safe options for employees to get home from the function;
  • appointing one or more responsible persons who will not drink as a go to for staff throughout the event;
  • having a set ending time for the work event portion, and therefore any staff that ‘party on’ are doing so in a social capacity; and
  • taking appropriate and timely action if and when inappropriate behaviour occurs.

With these precautions taken, you and your staff can still kick up your heels and have a great Christmas Party!

Should you require further advice, please contact our experienced Employment Law Team.