Avoid the Christmas party “hangover”

by 26 Nov 2009

Every year practitioners deal with the “hangovers” from office parties, which frequently end up in court and discrimination/industrial tribunals. Richard Thompson and Josh Strong provide some useful tips which will provide some coverage and foster a culture of respect and personal responsibility in the workplace

It is not possible for an employer to cover every possible thing that could go wrong at an office Christmas party, however employers may take protective steps by issuing a written statement beforehand setting out rules and an acceptable standard of behaviour. The following points should be kept in mind when preparing such a statement for staff:

• Note the start and finish time of the party.

• Encourage personal responsibility in the consumption of alcohol, and make it clear that individuals will be held to account for their behaviour.

• Note that if an employee is asked to leave by the employer due to intoxication, the employee must leave.

• Make it clear that any behaviour that is discriminatory, offensive, demeaning or sexually inappropriate will not be tolerated (this includes giving inappropriate gifts).

• Make it clear that once the event has wound up, the employer bears no responsibility for anything that occurs if employees go out afterwards.

• Make it clear that misconduct at the Christmas party could result in disciplinary action, including demotion or dismissal.

In addition, employers should take the following steps to ensure the safety of staff and reduce the risk of legal action:

• Assign a function organiser, who should remain sober throughout the event.

• Ensure that there are no OH&S concerns in relation to the venue.

• Provide alternatives to alcohol, such as soft drink and water.

• Ensure that there is plenty of food.

• Ensure that you are meeting your obligations with respect to responsible service of alcohol (including having accredited servers and not serving intoxicated people).

• Provide non-glass drinking containers where possible.

• Ensure that there is a safe and easy means for the employees to get home, which may involve providing cab charges.

• Be prepared to deal with any complaints on the night, and don’t dismiss complaints on the basis that “everyone was a bit drunk”.

By Richard Thompson and Josh Strong, Wisewould Mahony Lawyers, Melbourne