The office end of year/Christmas party is a great occasion for employers and employees to celebrate the end of the year and the festive season together.
However, employers must be aware that legal and moral obligations of ensuring the health and safety of employees extend to work functions, including Christmas parties, even if the function takes place out of the office and/or outside business hours.
Inappropriate behaviour by employees at Christmas parties may expose employers to a variety of legal risks, including discrimination, sexual harassment, or workers compensation claims and even breaches of health and safety obligations.
Tips for businesses
In order to minimise the legal risks that may arise at end of year Christmas parties, employers should ensure:
- That workplace policies and procedures and codes of conduct are current and readily accessible to employees before the function. Employees should be reminded of their obligations ahead of any Christmas functions and made aware that any inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated
- Alcohol is served responsibly and ensure that service of alcohol is refused to any employee who drinks to excess or reaches their limit
- They have considered how employees will travel to and from the function and consider providing cab charge vouchers, booking a minibus or assisting employees with carpooling
- That one or more employees are responsible for monitoring, reporting or intervening in any inappropriate behaviour
- That any reported inappropriate behaviour is investigated and addressed in a timely manner
In addition to ensuring that misbehaviour at Christmas functions is addressed prior to the Christmas break, it is also important to address any other misconduct or disciplinary issues which arise prior to employees commencing leave over the Christmas period.
In a recent decision of the Fair Work Commission, an employee who was summarily dismissed after the Christmas shut down period due to his breach of safety rules which occurred two months prior was found to have been unfairly dismissed. While the Commission found that the safety breach amounted to serious misconduct justifying summary dismissal, the Commission held that the employer’s inaction over the Christmas shut down period meant that summary dismissal could not be justified. This case emphasises the importance of addressing any misconduct or disciplinary issues in a timely manner, particularly if employees will be taking leave over the Christmas period.
HR Legal wishes you a happy new year and a relaxing break and we look forward to working with you again next year.
This article was produced by HR Legal. It is intended to provide general information only in summary format on legal issues. It does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on as such.