A work Christmas party can be fraught (fraught I say!) with danger. What better setting than the combination of alcohol and the party atmosphere to bring out safety related risks such as sexual harassment and “it was just a joke” discrimination.  

So, buckle up and enjoy the wild ride that can be the work Christmas party with these things in mind:  

  1. Is everyone on the same page?
    It is common that workplace policies include that alcohol should not be consumed in excess at work functions and that policies like the code of conduct, work, health and safety and sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying policies will apply to work functions. To ensure that all employees are reminded and/or aware of these you should consider sending a notification prior to the party reminding them that Christmas parties are still work functions and that their behaviour at the party, must comply with the company’s policies and procedures.  And please make sure they know where to find these policies!  
  1. “It was a joke!”
    Harassment and Discrimination at the Christmas party are nearly always meant as a joke.  But that doesn’t make them any less Harassment or Discrimination. If an employee is approached during the event, or leaving it, in a manner that could be perceived as inappropriate, just because it is at a party does not make it OK. Making a joke about ‘excessive’ sick leave, a person’s work ethic, their religious beliefs or ethnicity are all forms of discrimination – even though it is a party!

    An employer is highly likely to be found to be vicariously liable for such behaviour and will need to demonstrate that they took “all reasonable steps” to mitigate the danger and keep employees safe.  
  1. When, where, how and who?
    When planning your big bash, it is important to think about the people who work for you. Although you may want to party like it is 1999 remember that some (most or all) of your employees may have children or caring responsibilities that mean they may be excluded from the festivities. Consider having your work Christmas party at lunchtime or make it a family friendly event.  

    If you decide to lash out and invite partners remember that you automatically take responsibility for them as well!  And remember if you are extending the invitation, make sure it is not discriminatory: partners; not husbands and wives!  

  1. Assessing the Venue
    When looking for a venue don’t just choose your favourite watering hole.  You need to assess the risks of the location and discuss any concerns with the venue prior to booking. Some things to consider:
  • Size matters:  Make sure that the venue is appropriately sized for the amount of people – too many people and there will be a constant battle to get anywhere.  Also consider if the venue is segregated into upstairs and downstairs or rooms – do you want to create segregated groups or one whole party?
  • Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow: the venue must hold a Responsible Service of Alcohol licence, but if you are going to have an open bar you should also consider your own protection against excessive drinking.  Consider an armband with number of drinks that can be marked off as they are consumed, or another system that allows for some control.
  • Food for Thought: have you provided enough food?  One of the biggest complaints that come out of parties is that there was not enough food, or only the people standing near the kitchen door were getting any! It is a part of your duty of care to make sure there is enough food being served with the alcohol consumption.  It is a part of being a good employer to cater to everyone’s needs be them gluten free or vegetation, not everyone likes deep fried spring rolls!
  • Do you have a Plan B: make sure you choose a venue that has transportation options.  It may be great to have a party in the middle of a vineyard but if you are not providing the transportation to and from the venue you need to think about your plan B for getting everyone home safely!    
  1. Who’s in charge around here? It is important that a representative of the organisation is there as “the responsible person” this person should have enough authority to ensure that they are listened to when they give someone the word to “keep it down”, “I think you should slow down” or “you need to leave”.  Someone needs to be looking out for everyone not only while the party is raging, but when everyone is leaving as well.

    Additionally, it might be a good thing to remind your employees to look out for their mates. As well as being a great culture to encourage at work it is a great way to keep everyone safe.  
  1. The Aftermath: the day after (or Monday after) after the Christmas party can be great, as everyone reminisces about what a great night it was, or it can be the worst day of the year! Allegation about inappropriate behaviour can be raised and if so, the organisation will be required to look into them (or even formally investigate!). Or the good old “sickie” is pulled out of the bag. Remember even though it may seem like a happy coincidence that there was a party and now there is a sickie, you can not presume that your employee is not genuinely unwell.  

If you are not sure how to approach your employees about the expectation of your upcoming Christmas party or if you would like further information – we can help. Just email solve@fiveseven.com.au.

Alison Marriott

With a sharp eye for detail, Alison can find the missing dots. A seasoned contract professional who can quickly cut through the grey areas that are costing employers time and money.

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