It’s that time of year again – when staff get together to eat, drink and make merry for the Christmas Party.

Sorry to be the Grinch, but without appropriate safeguards, this can turn into an employer’s worst nightmare!

Whilst social, a Christmas Party is still a work function.

Under anti-discrimination laws, an employer can be held responsible for actions of employees in relation to harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination.

Similarly, 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!

A common mistake employers make is allowing unlimited free alcohol to be served at a work function. In a case last year before the Fair Work Commission, the Commissioner considered that the supply of unlimited alcohol made it “entirely predictable that some individuals will consume an excessive amount and behave inappropriately".

Some proactive steps a good employer can take in the lead up to the big night are:

  • have an appropriate and up-to-date conduct policy in place and easily accessible to staff;
  • reinforce to employees that the Christmas party is a work-related event and that workplace policies and rules therefore apply;
  • remind staff that failing to comply with the employer's policies during the event may be a basis for disciplinary action which could lead to termination;
  • ensure that the venue will provide responsible service of alcohol and have plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks available;
  • provide safe options for employees to get home from the function;
  • appoint one or more responsible persons who will not drink as a go to for staff throughout the event;
  • have a set ending time for the work event portion, and therefore any staff that ‘party on’ are doing so in a social capacity;
  • take appropriate and timely action if and when inappropriate behaviour occurs.
Even with these protections in place, rest assured that you and your staff can still kick your heels up and have a great Christmas Party!

Suzanne Brown is a Principal of McKays Solicitors and Mackay’s only Business Law Accredited Specialist. She can be contacted on 4963 0820 or [email protected]