Avoid Christmas party liability

by 15 Nov 2011

With the festive season fast approaching, so too is the onslaught of office Christmas party – and a liability suit waiting to happen for those employers who do not adequately prepare.

Ben Thompson, CEO at HR consultancy firm the EI Group, has warned employers that despite the festive mood, employers must remind employees that the work Christmas party is a work function and inappropriate behaviour including sexual harassment and discrimination is unlawful and not acceptable.

The EI Group said that regardless of whether parties take place on or off-site, and within or out of work hours, it remains the legal responsibility of employers to protect employees from sexual harassment and discrimination.

Thompson said it is best practice for employers to ensure they have updated and clearly communicated policies which address staff conduct at staff functions held after work hours.

The policies need to clearly identify unacceptable conduct, possible examples, where it applies and the consequences of any breach.

Thompson said, “It’s that time of year when employees let their hair down and celebrate the fact that they have come to the end of another year.  It’s a typical scenario: Christmas party, a few drinks and then someone does or says something that offends another, [which] results in serious and ongoing negative consequences for your staff and your business beyond that one night.”

The potential cost of claims against the business for the drunken actions of a staff member can be in excess of $10,000, he warned.

Additionally, the EI Group offered employers the following tips for hosting a successful Christmas party:
1. The night should be premised as a celebration of team efforts for the year. Before your Christmas party, make sure all your staff are informed of the appropriate standard of behaviour expected of them. It is worthwhile reiterating your discrimination and harassment policy to all staff in the weeks leading up to your Christmas party and making it an item at all staff meetings.  

If you are concerned about big drunken nights out, then perhaps hold a lunchtime party for work colleagues and make it a family affair by inviting partners and kids along – people are less likely to drink to excess and get rowdy around children.

2. Ensure there are good transport options for everyone to get home safely.  If you’ve removed anyone from the party for being too drunk, make sure you call them a cab and make sure they get into it and are capable of giving their address to the driver.

3. Ensure managers are acting responsibly. While it is a celebration for your managers as much as it is for the rest of your team, it is worthwhile reminding your managers to act in a professional capacity during the evening and to help supervise the event. Managers and supervisors also need to be trained so that they know their obligations and responsibilities and can prepare themselves to deal with any issues that may arise.

4. Place emphasis on the responsible consumption of alcohol. Ensure the evening is fun and inclusive by considering things like appropriate catering and entertainment which is inclusive of all staff members’ values and beliefs.

5. Consider dietary requirements. You should ensure that your catering is appropriate for a multicultural team and making available vegetarian, vegan and celiac options.


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