7 min read

Preventing liability claims arising from the work Christmas party

Featured Image

It’s that time of the year again. The aftermath of ‘letting your hair down’ at work functions can be costly.

This time of the year there is generally a plethora of workers’ compensation claims, bullying claims, dismissal claims, sexual harassment claims and discrimination complaints. It’s a busy season for the lawyers.

For this reason, the months of December and January can be a busy time for employment lawyers.

The last five years of statistics tells a story:

  • Two in five women in the workplace [39%] and one in four men [25%] have experienced sexual harassment. ‘Australian Human Rights Commission 2018 survey’

  • 23 % of women in the workforce have experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment compared with 16 % of men in the workforce over the past 12 months.

The silly season brings out all forms of inappropriate behaviour and discrimination as well as injuries from workplace social events. Many incidents resulting in claims or complaints occur at post party aftermath events when alcohol continues to flow and lack of self-control flows as rapidly as the alcohol.

Be aware of:

Unwelcome touching, suggestive and inappropriate comments [discriminatory] and jokes, inappropriate secret Santa gifts, inappropriate innuendos or proposals and invasive personal questions. Also be aware of underage drinking and presence of illicit drugs.

So employers beware, work Christmas parties can have a damaging aftermath!

Get organised and put in place reasonable and acceptable measures to minimise risk. It is not relevant whether the work function is on work premises or not, it is still a work function.

If as an employer, if you can establish that you have taken 'reasonable steps' to ensure your employee’s do not engage in unlawful conduct, you may have a defence against a legal claim.

Plan for the event

  1. Have strong policies for prevention of harassment and discrimination in place. Send out copies to employees and other affected parties prior to the Christmas function and ensure they read and understand the policies [request email response indicating receipt, read, understood and agree to comply].

  2. Also issue a policy reminding staff that illicit drug possession or use is illegal at any time and shall not be tolerated at the workplace including social events.

  3. Invitations to a Christmas function should include a reminder of behaviour expectations, start and finish times and indicate consequences of breach of company policies.

  4. Have in place a complaints and incident procedure and address any complaints immediately.

  5. Organise events [included on invitations] to have a formal start and finish time which should be strictly adhered to including closed bar [close bar tab] at finish time.

  6. Assign management personnel to monitor behaviour in order to circumvent any potential issues before they escalate e.g. risk of alcohol fuelled violence.

  7. Provide food while alcohol is being served and offer at least equivalent options for non-alcohol or light alcohol drinks.

  8. Consider offering transport home when alcohol has been served. Organising and paying for Uber / Taxis at closing time is a good idea.

Season’s Greetings one and all.