CHRISTMAS PARTIES – YOUR DUTY OF CARE

The festive season is nearly here again and no doubt many members are looking forward to celebrating with their employees. Work Christmas functions are good for morale, a nice way to say thanks for the efforts put in over the year and, of course, fun. There are, however, a few things you can do to minimise the risks that come with any work-related celebrations.

You still have work health and safety obligations in relation to anyone who attends a work Christmas party, even if it’s being held away from the usual place of work. There are also the standard, everyday employer responsibilities regarding potential behavioural problems such as harassment, discrimination and other disciplinary matters.

Your duty of care requires you to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of attendees.

You should make sure of the following:

  • The event should be held at a safe venue that is easy to get to and from safely. That could include arranging transport or just making sure that employees can get taxis home.
  • Alcohol consumption should not be excessive, and this starts with management setting a good example. Care and responsibility can also include making sure there are bartenders to serve employees and/or other ways of controlling how much individuals consume. It is, of course, vital that those serving the drinks understand the basic principles of responsible service of alcohol. The usual rules about not serving minors or anyone who is intoxicated apply. It is always a good idea to have plenty to eat and lots of soft drink alternatives available.
  • Just as a work party at an external venue can be considered as being ‘at work’, your obligations can in some circumstances also apply if employees decide to ‘kick on’ afterwards. You should, therefore, make it clear, in writing, that the event ceases at the end of the function and that you neither condone nor encourage any further celebrations. Providing transport home at the end of the event can help here too.
  • It’s also a good idea to remind staff, prefera bly in writing, about existing workplace policies on bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. If you don’t yet have a policy on social media, now would be a good time to introduce one. All staff should be made aware that the usual rules on acceptable behaviour apply at the Christmas party no less than they do at work the rest of the year, and this includes responsible use of social media.

If everyone behaves responsibly and treats their colleagues with the same respect and courtesy as in the workplace, there’s no reason why you can’t have a trouble free celebration of the end to a hard year’s work.

 

Paul Murray  
Industrial Relations Officer

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