You don’t need to be reminded that Christmas is just around the corner. With that comes a bit of time off for many and the opportunity to let their hair down. As an employer, you will probably putting on a Christmas function or party to thank your staff and show a bit of appreciation. That's a great thing but at the same time, you would be wise to take precautions when planning these functions to avoid any potential legal repercussions.
Employers may be held liable for any misconduct, injury, discrimination or harassment that an employee is subject to at a work-related event. Statistics show that the festive season brings with it an increase in the likelihood of a workplace claim arising from inappropriate conduct such as sexual harassment, drug and alcohol use, as well as health and safety issues.
Before the party starts
How you approach the pre-event preparations will depend on many factors including the composition of your staff and of course what sort of events you are going to hold. There are a couple of things you might consider.
As an employer, you might communicate your organisation's code of conduct to all staff. Consider sending an email to all employees prior to the event to remind everyone of their responsibilities and that normal disciplinary procedures will apply.
Even for employer sponsored events held away from your business premises, you must provide a duty of care by OH&S standards to all employees. It might be advisable to have a discussion with the venue management about their OH&S policies and evacuation plans.
Employers may be held responsible for alcohol fuelled behaviour. When alcohol is going to be available, ensure that it will be provided by qualified personnel. Be sure to supply food and include low alcohol and non-alcoholic drink options. It really goes without saying that minors, if you employ under-age staff, are not to be supplied with alcohol.
To ensure your employees travel home safely, it may be prudent to organise travel arrangements to and from the event. Organising a mini bus or taxi services may be appropriate. Assigning a responsible person to act as supervisor for the event can help protect the safety and wellbeing of all employees.
It is also advisable to set specific event start and finish times. Also make it known that “after-party” events are not employer-endorsed.
These events are a great chance to show your staff some appreciation. But the likelihood of workplace harassment and injury is also a possibility. A bit of preparation and acknowledging the possible consequences might be worthwhile.