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Avoiding Christmas party & silly season nightmares!

T’was the season to be silly….falalalalalala

The silly season is upon us and Christmas Parties and events are commencing.

Did you know that litigation increases in the December to January period? In particular, sexual and racial harassment claims skyrocket.

I’ve personally been involved in well over 300 conduct dismissals.  I estimate approximately 15-20% have been associated with client or workplace Christmas parties misconduct.

Christmas parties/lunches are seen as an extension of the workplace and falls within the boundaries of in the ‘course of employment’. That means health and safety, bullying and discrimination laws are enforceable.

The law hold employees accountable for their behaviour in official and unofficial events. This can be quite tricky for employers to manage.

Christmas parties should be fun and enjoyable.  But sometimes they turn into nightmares.  But there are ways that as an employer and employee you can ensure everyone has an amazing night!

In this blog we address Employer Responsibilities.

Employers need to be proactive to protect themselves from a potential claim, as all employment law remains in force! This is also true of Workers Compensation and injuries suffered at the Christmas party or other workplace.

All employers have an obligation to prevent sexual, racial harassment and bullying.  Case after case holds employers responsible because they failed to take some simple steps!

Our guide to ensure a great festive season!

Alcohol is the number one issue when it comes to inappropriate and illegal behaviour.   

As an employer you need to ensure the following if you want to avoid a very expensive party!

  • Make sure you have appropriate policies in place and all employees are aware of them. In particular, workplace health & safety, anti-discrimination, sexual harassment, confidentiality and social media policies in particular.
  • If you are doing Kris Kingle / Secret Santa, make sure people understand 'appropriate gifts'. All too often claims are made by inappropriate gifts that someone thought was funny.
  • It is absolutely essential that you remind employees (via email) that whilst you want everyone to have fun, they still need to maintain appropriate behaviours and abide by company policies.
  • Identifying any potential hazards by performing a risk assessment of the party venue. Also ensure your insurances cover the venue and the venue has appropriate public liability insurance.
  • Ensure your staff are clear on what is appropriate behaviour (email) if attending team Christmas lunches and especially client Christmas events! All too often people breach policies and the business lose reputation that could have been avoided.
  • Leaders need to walk the talk. Don’t tell people to drink responsibility, then get smashed with your best client and turn up hung over the next day. Be mindful that acceptable behaviour is communicated primarily through actions!
  • Make sure you have a ‘responsible drinking’ policy. Open bars with unlimited drinking (especially spirits) tends to end up in nasty legal cases. It also means that the employer has some culpability here. We advise clients to hold functions at places that are required by law to manage responsible drinking. This enables managers to more easily manage a situation of having to let a team member know it’s time to get a cab.
  • Ensure there is sufficient food is served.
  • Ensure under-age staff do not get access to alcohol!
  • Nominate one leader who will intervene if trouble starts to brew (e.g. arguments amongst employees, someone drinking too much, someone becoming too touchy feely). No one ever wants this role, but in my experience this role saves a lot of headaches!.
  • Be clear on when the party ends. This is crucial. Often legal cases are clouded because it is unclear if the act was conducted within the course of employment definition or not. Specify that any ‘after party’ events that may follow on after the party’s designated finishing time are undertaken by the employees’ in their own time and are not employer endorsed. This includes client events and Christmas lunches.

We wish all our amazing clients and our readers a fun, joyous and safe Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


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This article is intended to provide commentary and general information. It should not be relied upon as comprehensive or legal advice. Formal legal advice may be necessary in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this article. The HR Experts International is not responsible for the results of any actions taken on the basis of information in this article, nor for any error or omission in this article.

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