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End of year celebrations - Tips for ensuring a safe, risk-free festive season 

As Christmas draws nearer, so to do Christmas parties and other functions (both employer hosted and customer hosted), your employees may wish to attend.  Whilst hosting a work Christmas party or similar festive celebrations can be a great way to reward employees for their hard work, it can be a source of anxiety for employers who are unsure of their obligations to their employees.

Regardless of whether a work Christmas party is held onsite at the workplace or offsite at a park, restaurant or alternate venue, such an event will be considered to be a work function.  It is also important to remember that should you require an employee to attend a customer hosted function, this would be considered a work related function also. 

As a sponsored work event, as the employer you may be held liable for the actions and conduct of your employees not only during the official function, but also for their actions afterwards should employees choose to continue on their celebrations. Similarly, your health and safety obligations as an employer continue to apply and must be taken into consideration when planning and hosting such functions as injuries suffered at the Christmas party could become the subject of a workers' compensation claim.

As workplace Christmas functions are deemed to be a work activity, all employees are expected to continue to abide by your workplace policies, the expected standards of behaviour and codes of conduct. Any employee whose behaviour or actions breaches the code of conduct or company policies at the function may be subject to disciplinary action. 

While the need to consider your employer obligations for such functions can appear to make it all “too hard” or seem to remove the ability for employers to celebrate and have fun, by undertaking some pre-event planning, you can implement precautionary measures to minimise potential risks while still ensuring that both your staff and yourself can have a good time. To achieve this balance, it is recommended that the following steps be taken:

Before the Christmas Party:

Clearly outline the Christmas party plans – provide clear communication to all employees regarding the details of the event, including:

  • The venue details;
  • Specific start and finishing times;
  • Any transport arrangements made for employees to get to/from the venue.
  • Ensure that all employees are reminded that this is a work event and therefore workplace policies, behaviour and code of conduct applies.
  • Ensure that appropriate policies are in place which covers matters such including bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and social media.
  • Prior to the Christmas party, remind all employees of their responsibilities, outlining what types of behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable, and include reference to the relevant policies and to the need to exercise restraint in the consumption of alcohol.

At the Christmas Party:

  • Ensure that alcohol is served responsibly.
  • Limit the serving of alcohol to people who are becoming intoxicated.
  • Provide sufficient food and ensure non-alcoholic drinks are available.
  • Appoint a senior manager for party organisers and staff to confer with if any problems or issues arise during the event.
  • Ensure there is a clear start and finish time for the event.

After the Christmas Party:

  • If any employees have drunk too much at the event, as you have a duty of care for your employees, responsibility needs to be taken to ensure that they can get home safely. When planning the Christmas function, consideration should be given to employee travel requirements, including ending the function before public transport stops running, having a venue that is close to public transport, encouraging car pooling, providing cab charge vouchers, ensuring the phone numbers for local cab companies are available and encouraging staff to use them.
  • Clearly communicate to employees that any activities or continued celebrations which take place post the official function finish time are not endorsed by, or the responsibility of, the employer.
  • Having a clear finish time for the event will work to support that your responsibility ends at the close of the official function and minimising your risk should any employees wish to continue celebrating.  

While undertaking some extra steps when planning your Christmas celebrations may seem tedious or ‘all too hard’ in comparison to choosing a venue and selecting food, taking the time to ensure that your employees are aware, and understand their responsibilities and expectations at the event will help you to relax and focus on enjoying the night.

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