Christmas party employer obligations: When staff behave badly

Posted by Phil Cookson on 02/12/2016

Christmas parties are a fun time for businesses to celebrate another year passed. They’re also a minefield for sexual harassment lawsuits. Every year, sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the most common complaints received by the Commission under the Sex Discrimination Act.

This makes it imperative for employers to implement policies that increase awareness and prevent sexual harassment before the festivities begin.

Avoid a legal hangover

Set the ground rules early by communicating the appropriate standard behaviours. Some suggested recommendations are:

  • Ensure policies are in place, and make relevant policies a standing item in induction training and in staff meetings in the weeks leading up to the event.

  • Communicate what behaviours will and won’t be tolerated via staff meetings, staff newsletters, intranet or email.

  • Consider specific staff training in the months leading up to Christmas; focus on what constitutes sexual harassment and discrimination.

  • Consider separate training for managers so they’re aware of their obligations and responsibilities and are better equipped to deal with any problems, should they arise.

As an employer what else can you do to limit risk?

Emphasise the responsible consumption of alcohol. Remember a  range of factors can influence an individual’s blood alcohol content, such as body size, age, level of fitness, liver health, gender, medication, when someone ate and what they ate.
Consider the timing of your Christmas party. If you’re worried about drunken nights out, consider a lunchtime event and make it a family affair by allowing partners and kids to attend. Be very clear about start and end times for the party.
Ensure there’s adequate food. We’ve all been to the Christmas party where the ‘finger food’ is few and far between. Without food in our stomach, alcohol is absorbed more rapidly and we achieve higher peak blood alcohol levels. 

Make sure employees get home safely. Consider supplying cab vouchers or ensure there’s adequate public transport from the venue.

Maximise your care and minimise your risk

The silly season can be just that – silly! Alcohol can have a strange effect on some people who make the mistake of thinking that the beer they’ve just drunk has suddently made them more physically attractive. 

Remember that alchohol can lessen or remove one’s inhibitions. As an employer it’s your responsibility to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring at the staff Christmas party and on the journey home

You have the right to expect certain standards of behaviour from you’re your employees, and you also have the right to impose disciplinary sanctions, including in some cases dismissing an employee, when those standards of behaviour are transgressed. However, if you manage these functions sensibly it shouldn’t get to this! Prevention is the best strategy.

Nobody wants to wake up with anything more than a hangover the next day.


Source: Business Propel by Charisse Gray 

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