sector insights
07 f 2018

Work Christmas Parties

As we come into the festive season, end of working year Christmas parties are commonly held by employers to celebrate the end of the year, and to reward their employees for a good year.

Are you planning a work Christmas or end of year party? While such parties provide a good opportunity for your employees to relax and bond, they are not without their risks.

The work Christmas party most likely will be within the “course of employment” for your employees. As such, all the usual risks obligations and potential liabilities of an employer will continue to apply at the party.

But there will be two major complications:

  1. The party will probably not be at your premises and
  2. Alcohol will probably be involved.

As the party is in the course of employment, the venue for the party will be, temporarily at least, a place of work and the employer’s usual duty of  care to provide a safe place of work will apply.

While the venue may be a commercial property, such as a restaurant or function centre, and you may expect the operator to provide a safe place in which to party, you cannot rely on the operator to do so. In legalese, your duty of care to your employees cannot be delegated to the operator of the venue. In order to minimise your risk it is advisable that inspection of the premises be carried out at and any defects be remedied before your employees begin arriving for the party.

A bad example of this occurred when a large number of people at a party crowded onto an external balcony, the brick balustrade on the balcony collapsed and many party goers fell to the ground below, together with the falling bricks resulting in many serious and a few critical injuries.

The presence of alcohol also raises further issues. People affected by alcohol to a greater or lesser degree have their inhibitions relaxed, and things may be said or done which would not normally occur at work, and which may cause embarrassment at the least, and serious trouble at the worst end of the scale.

A bad example of this was when a person at a work party urinated form an upstairs balcony onto fellow guests below, which resulted in him losing his employment.

All the usual workplace policies such as anti-discrimination, anti-bullying anti-harassment etc continue to apply at the Christmas party and employees should remind be reminded of this prior to the party.

The presence of alcohol can exacerbate these issues, and can also raise further issues with drink driving, and possibly criminal sanctions.

Employers have in the past been found to be vicariously liable for an employee’s inappropriate conduct or statements that have occurred at a work party.

Employers can also be held responsible for their employee’s actions in relation to harassment, sexual harassment and discrimination which occurred ‘in the course of employment.’

If employees are injured at functions which occur ‘in the course of employment,’ they could make a workers compensation claim against their employer.

How can employers manage risks at a work party?

Employers owe a duty of care to their employees, and must take reasonable steps to identify and reduce any potential risks. The nature of workplace functions and the consumption of alcohol increase the risks, and therefore raise the threshold of what is required of employees to take ‘reasonable steps.’

What are the steps an employer can take to reduce risks?

  • Undertake an inspection of the venue to identify safety hazards and to ensure that the venue is safe, and planned activities do not present inappropriate risks;
  • Remind your employees that workplace policies, including for bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and safety still apply to behaviour at the function, even if it is held off site;
  • Responsible service of alcohol should be followed to reduce the risks of sexual harassment, bullying and accidents. Limit higher alcohol drinks such as ‘shots’ doubles and cocktails. Ensure that food is served and non-alcoholic drinks are available.
  • Consider the needs of staff with dietary or cultural requirements.
  • Remind your employees of the dangers of over drinking and drink driving. If an employee becomes too intoxicated at a work party, they should be told to stop drinking. If necessary, they should be required to leave the function, with safe transport arranged;
  • Set specific start and finish times for Christmas Parties. Inform employees that “after parties” following the function are not endorsed by the employer.
  • Ensure that employees are able to get home safely. Consider providing taxi vouchers, Uber rides or organise a shuttle bus.
  • Check your employee insurance policy to confirm that the function is covered.

Phil Day from NFP Success wrote this article and can be contacted in our Brisbane office on (07) 3417 0194