Drunk and falling down the stairs: Melbourne Cup day festivities

by Stephanie Zillman30 Oct 2012

Mixing alcohol and employees often results in a headache for HR and employers – serving alcohol at work functions can be akin to running a gauntlet because irresponsible service of alcohol can result in a minefield of potential litigation.

The Melbourne Cup is traditionally a time of year when offices around the country let their hair down, and employers are increasingly under pressure to put on a staff party.

One specialist employment law firm has urged employers to set clear expectations with staff for the day, including limits around the consumption of alcohol at work and clearly communicating whether staff are expected to return to their duties. “An important part of planning for the event is setting clear expectations with staff on how the day will proceed. For example, issues have arisen in the past for some of our clients if staff assume they have the rest of the afternoon off when in fact they are required in the office,”  Joydeep Hor, Managing Principal of People and Culture Strategies (PCS) said.

Hor also strongly recommended employers be circumspect when planning for Melbourne Cup to canvas the opinions and values of staff.  “Some employees, due to religious or family values or simply because they’re not interested, may not wish to participate in elements of Melbourne Cup day, particularly gambling and drinking alcohol. Employers need to ensure they provide options for staff who may not wish to participate in race day celebrations – the choice of those who do not wish to be involved must be respected,” he said.

In addition to gambling, the consumption of alcohol on race day is common and an aspect for employers to consider.

According to law firm Sparke Helmore, litigation can be avoided by ensuring that alcohol is ‘served responsibly’, namely by complying with all workplace health and safety legislation, and ultimately not putting the health, safety or welfare of employees (or others at an employer’s place of work) at risk. “Responsible service implies that, for example, employees have been advised to be careful and responsible about their consumption of alcohol, to respect others when they have consumed alcohol, [and] may include some supervision or monitoring of consumption at the conclusion of the event.”

Notably, whether it is an event at an employer’s premises, at a venue, or at an employee’s own premises, if employees are required or encouraged to be present, the employers’ obligations under the work, health and safety legislation remain the same. Roland Hassall, senior workplace consultant at Sparke Helmore lawyers, advised the following guidelines for responsible service of alcohol:

  • Ensuring the bar tab is proportionate to the number of people at the event
  • Limiting high content alcoholic drinks
  • Not permitting ‘shots’ or ‘double’ drinks
  • Having designated managers responsible for the event ensure appropriate workplace behaviour at the event and that arrangements have been made for the conclusion of the event
  • Careful communication about when the event ceases and what transport facilities will be make available, if appropriate
  • Not putting on an unlimited tab; and
  • Making employees aware that if they choose to go to another venue or carry on in evening that the firm’s involvement and responsibility ceases at the end of the event


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