Employers cautioned over Christmas parties

HR should be on high alert in order to avoid any potential harassment claims, warns one expert

Employers cautioned over Christmas parties
Employers are being warned to remain vigilant during the festive season as companies could find themselves exposed to significant risk if an event gets out of hand.

“When it comes to seasonal celebrations, even if an event is held outside of working hours and the workplace, an employer can still be liable,” says Melodi James, a senior employment relations advisor with Employsure.

‘If the work Christmas party is organised and paid for by the employer, the duty of care remains the same as though it was in the workplace,” she continues.

James says a business will only have a defence if it can prove it took all reasonable steps to prevent something untoward happening.

“Employers are therefore advised to clearly outline what is inappropriate behaviour and what the repercussions can be if misconduct takes place,” she says.

James also encourages employers to be open and clear about what behaviour is unacceptable – for example, the use of illegal drugs, discrimination or harassment, and violence.

She also says employers have an obligation to ensure their staff can get home safely.

If an employee is injured on their way home from the function there is a fair chance the employer could be faced with a workers’ compensation claim, she says. As such, preparing transport home is a highly effective way to minimise risk.

James also says employers should remind staff about the serious consequences of drinking and driving.

“Consuming alcohol or drugs prior to driving is irresponsible and illegal,” she says. “You must remind staff about legal drinking limits and offer alternative arrangements such as public transport or taxis.”

Related stories:
Employers reminded of holiday obligations
Why HR can’t be off duty at the Christmas party

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