The festive season is a time of numerous social outings, client functions and workplace parties. Unfortunately it also creates the potential for a spike in poor behaviours, where staff may forget the usual standards of conduct in favour of letting their hair down. The combination of alcohol and the work environment can have dire consequences – and not just a sore head the next day.
Earlier this year, the fallout from a 2014 work Christmas party was played out publicly in the Fair Work Commission (FWC). A night out was arranged, drinks were consumed and as the night wore on one employee abused, sexually harassed and berated colleagues. Following an internal investigation the employee was sacked. However, while the FWC held that the termination was harsh and unjust and ordered the employee be reinstated, the damage was already done. Fractured work relationships, aggrieved individuals and not to mention the publicity it garnered for the company, meant that 2015 would have started on a sour note.
How can this be avoided?
The end of year is a time to reflect and celebrate the achievements of the past 12 months. However, employers should put in place steps to mitigate any possible risk of inappropriate behaviour.
Such steps may include communicating to staff what is expected behaviour as well as designating managers to oversee functions and manage the event.
It is also a timely reminder that the ‘workplace’ can extend to locations outside the traditional work environment and the Courts have found employers vicariously liable for their employees’ actions at work-related functions, so there is even greater impetus to try to prevent any issues arising.
HR Legal recommends the following approach:
- Have regard to appropriate safety measures in organising functions
- Remind employees what behaviours are expected and to reacquaint themselves with the relevant policies.
- Offer non-alcoholic and lighter alcohol beverage options
- Ensure external event staff are briefed about the expectation of adhering to Responsible Service of Alcohol requirements
- Designate a manager (or two) to oversee the function and be the eyes and sensibility to manage the event
- Have a start and end time for the function and adhere to this
- While employers have no legal obligation to ensure employees don’t drink and drive, try to arrange functions where there are accessible transport options
- Have fun
HR Legal can provide advice on policies and procedures to assist with the smooth running of this festive season in your workplace, as well as how to address any incidents of inappropriate behaviour that may occur at end of year functions.
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.