Reilly highlighted a few issues HR need to keep in mind over this period:
While one would hope no employees have malicious intentions, even well-meaning staff can act foolishly at Christmas parties. As these events are still considered part of the workplace/working environment, even if they take place out of the office, employers must remain aware of any potential harassment that may occur.
Work, health and safety.
Like in the case of harassment, work parties and events are still considered part of the workplace – and so employers still have a responsibility to ensure health & safety precautions are met. This includes undertaking a risk assessment of the event: the venue, numbers attending, alcohol being served, alcohol to food ratio, etc.
Finally, employers must remain conscious of the fact workers’ compensation liability can arise during these events. With alcohol flowing and everyone letting their hair down, there is a definite chance of injuries. Workers’ compensation is more likely to apply if it can be proven that the individual’s employment was a ‘substantial contributing factor’ to the injury occurring. This is a factor in the case of events where employees are expected/compelled to attend, such as client functions or office parties.
Key HR takeaways
With these points in mind, Reilly outlined a few tips for HR to remember:
- Review workplace policies on drugs, alcohol, harassment and health and safety. Ensure staff are well aware of them.
- Ensure an adequate food-to-alcohol ratio.
- Set clear start and finish times for all events.
- Make sure adequate security and safety measures are in place. Enquire at the venue as to whether a current safety audit of the premises has been conducted.
- Monitor the behaviour of guests and ensure that there is immediate intervention in the case of intoxication, abuse of power, or other inappropriate behaviour.
Things can get out of hand this time of year. Functions with clients, office parties and other events are a lot of fun, but Emma Reilly, partner at Moray & Agnew Lawyers, warned it can also be a breeding ground for litigious actions and complaints.