By Renae Harg, Senior Associate, Lauren Wright, Lawyer and Miette Xamon, Law Clerk
The end of year office Christmas party may be the highlight of the office year with the free-flowing bubbly and the cheese board, unwinding while celebrating achievements and getting into the festive spirit. But it can also be a silly season minefield of risk, and employers have been held vicariously liable for their employees’ inappropriate conduct. The aftermath can be complaints sexual harassment, violence, offensiveness, unfair dismissals, and alcohol related traffic offences or accidents.
So, when organising your office party this year, there are a few things to be mindful of. Your duty of care as an employer extends to the actions of your employees at a work-sponsored event, even if it held off-site or outside of office hours.
Ensuring a safe, fun and professional event requires ensuring responsible behaviour compliant with occupational health and safety standards and avoiding employees experiencing sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying or other inappropriate treatment.
Here are our top 5 tips for safely enjoying your end of year celebrations:
- Be culturally aware: not all employees may celebrate Christmas. Consider naming it a “festive season” or “end of year” function to be inclusive.
- Remind employees of your workplace code of conduct or policies. Emphasise that inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated. In particular, employees should be reminded that any excessive drinking, discrimination, sexual harassment, offensive conduct or aggressiveness will not be tolerated.
- Ensure responsible service: It is not a good idea to allow self-serve. Ensure there is sufficient food and non-alcoholic options available to your team so you can all enjoy the event responsibly. You could even consider making your end of year event less alcohol-orientated and incorporate a team or client bonding exercise, for example a tennis day.
- Be clear about the start and end times of the event and consider how your team will get home. Check that employees have a safe way to get home and that there is a designated manager that remains sober to monitor that the event runs smoothly.
- Act quickly if there is an incident during the event to ensure any risky behaviour is stopped and follow up the next working day. Investigate the incident by interviewing those involved, allow procedural fairness, ensure any necessary confidentiality and take remedial or disciplinary action. Document the process.
Remember to enjoy the chance to socialise with your employees and co-workers!