Mitigate risks of the silly season

by Stephanie Zillman29 Nov 2012

HR tends to be the meat in the sandwich when it comes to the annual Christmas party. HR leaders are commonly tasked with the unenviable assignment of putting on an end of year work function to thank employees for their work throughout the year, as well as celebrate corporate successes.

Trying to mitigate the risks of mixing employees with alcohol, alongside the unfair moniker of being the ‘fun police’, HR professionals could be forgiven for putting their heads in the sand.

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:

  • Ensure the bar tab is proportionate to the number of people at the event
  • Limit high content alcoholic drinks
  • Do not permit ‘shots’ or ‘double’ drinks
  • Have designated managers responsible for the event ensure appropriate workplace behaviour at the event and ensure arrangements have been made for the conclusion of the event
  • Undertake careful communication about when the event ceases and what transport facilities will be make available, if appropriate
  • Do not put on an unlimited tab; and
  • Make 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

Whether you are managing the function yourself, or using an external organisation, there are many hidden risks and potential pitfalls that can occur and now is the time to check your plans against the guidelines from the Australian Drug Foundation.

The following is a simple checklist to start the planning process to ensure you:

  • meet duty-of-care and health and safety obligations
  • reduce potential employer liability
  • minimise the risk of intoxication and alcohol-related harms at events
  • enhance general safety for all attendees, staff, clients and guests.


Do you have an early intervention strategy to prevent incidents from occurring?

Do you have an appointed person responsible for the function who really understands their role?

How are you proposing to control the ‘flow’ of alcohol to the guests?

Are you considering serving alcohol during speeches/formalities?

What are your plans to have guests vacate the venue on time and leave without incident?

Are you eliminating any activities that may promote ‘rapid consumption’ of alcohol?

How is food being managed to help prevent intoxication?

Do all attendees know who is in charge of the event?

Do you have the appropriate number of security guards on duty throughout the function and have been briefed regarding your requirements?

What is your safe transport approach for any person evicted from the venue?

Does the entertainment appropriately cover the diversity of the guests?

Have you circulated your organisation’s Code-of-Conduct prior to the function?

When advertising the event to your staff, have you ensured you are not emphasising alcohol & consumption?

Have you considered independent (silent) monitoring of your function?

Do you have a debriefing process in-place for this function?


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