Pitfalls of workplace Christmas parties

How Christmas Spirits Can Spoil Holiday Cheer

Workplace Christmas parties are a great way to reward employees for their hard work over the last twelve months. Unfortunately, case law shows that these workplace parties can often result in physical injuries and allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.

Many employees see their work function as an opportunity to socialise and let their hair down. However, employers need to remain vigilant about enforcing workplace policies and procedures.

An event such as a Christmas lunch or drinks, which is organised by an employer, is very much considered to be part of an employee’s employment. As a result if there are physical injuries or unlawful behaviour occurs, which impacts upon another employee, there could be consequences of liability for an employer.

Most of the poor behaviour or injury that arise out of office Christmas parties inevitably involves the consumption of alcohol. While we do not advocate banning alcohol at your party, we do suggest that the following practical tips are put in place to reduce the risks surrounding its consumption:

  • Remind Employees of the Code of Conduct– Be clear and upfront with employees about what behaviour is expected at work functions, including the Christmas party, and the fact that all workplace policies apply to these situations.
  • Provide Alternatives-Plenty of non-alcoholic drinks should be available and you should consider whether there are limits placed on the types of alcohol that can be consumed (i.e. beer and wine instead of spirits).
  • Limit Consumption- Consider setting a limit on how much alcohol can be consumed by employees by issuing drinks vouchers and centralising the point of alcohol distribution so that topping up of alcohol, without an employee’s awareness, can be avoided.
  • Entertain- Ensure there are other activities to take place throughout the function which will provide alternative past time to drinking alcohol, in particular food should be provided to ensure people are not drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Think ahead about Transport- Ensure alternative transport options are in place such as public transport, private buses or taxis and expressly inform employees prior to the event of arrangements. If required specifically communicate with intoxicated individuals at the event that they are not to drive.
  • Monitor Employees- Particular members of management need to be given designated roles of being on the lookout for poor behaviour and excessive drinking. Management should step in to provide instructions to employees where appropriate.

Are you still not convinced that some forethought is required before launching into your office party? Consider the Australia Drug Foundation’s statistics that one in five Victorian workers say that have experienced unwanted or inappropriate behaviour from a person affected by alcohol at an organised work function.

Ensure that your start to the New Year will not be plagued with the headache of dealing with a mishaps that could have been avoided at the Christmas party by talking a little time to plan ahead. With a bit of forethought both you and your employees can truly enjoy the festivities of your party.