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Post Covid Office Christmas Parties. Risks and responsibilities.

The Christmas party season appears to have started strongly after the Covid years. It is reasonable that people want to clow off some steam and celebrate the end of the year. However, when participating in or hosting a work Christmas party, there are some pitfalls about which people should have some awareness.

The mix of alcohol with a seemingly informal setting may make people think that this is a regular social occasion and that the rules of the workplace don’t apply. But this is where things are likely to go badly from the start. Common challenges and outcomes which appear during and after office Christmas parties include: 

  • Incidents of sexual harassment (including unwelcome touching, sexual advances, and suggestive comments)

  • Bullying/ harassment or discrimination and other unacceptable and unprofessional behaviours

  • Increased health and safety incidents which could leave to workers compensation claims because the Christmas party is still seen as a work event.

  • Criminal matters including breaches of drug and alcohol laws.

 

Employers

Some employers forget that all of their legal responsibilities remain in effect during this Christmas party. So these are some thoughts on how to protect yourself and your employees this Christmas. 

·        Consider your employees’ religious and cultural beliefs, family and caring responsibilities, and travel requirements when planning, to foster an inclusive non-discriminatory event.

·        Remind employees before the function that workplace policies and codes of conduct will apply, a breach of which may result in disciplinary action.

·        Reminding staff about workplace policies is insufficient if employees do not have access to, and have not had training in, such policies. You should review, update and distribute your relevant workplace policies before the Christmas party. Make sure you address discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, and workplace health and safety standards. 

·        Consider specifically educating employees on the type of behaviour that is expected from them at the Christmas party. This can lessen the chance of potential claims being made as well as limiting the exposure of the business to vicarious liability.

·        Send an email or memo reminding employees of their obligations under the organisations policies and to encourage them to be safe and responsible at the function and afterwards. This demonstrates that you have taken all reasonably practicable steps to prevent conduct in breach at the event

 

·        Set specific starting and finishing times, reminding employees that a decision to ‘party-on’ after the event will not be condoned by the employer.

·        Ensure sufficient food, non-alcoholic beverages and water are available.

·        Visit the function centre in advance to ensure that responsible service of alcohol rules will be upheld. Identify key to be advised in the event of any employee or guest being in danger of excessive alcohol consumption.

·        Provide employees with access to safe transportation after the party

·        If the organisation conducts a Secret Santa, make sure that everybody understands that any gifts they purchase must be ‘G’ rated. This means that the recipient or others who will see the present (or even hear of it afterwards), should not have cause for offence leading to a possible breach of the organisations Sexual Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination Policy.

Employees

Sometimes people get excited and because they may be out of the office, people are dressed more casually perhaps and then there are a few drinks to be had. But staff need to understand that the office Christmas party is still a workplace event and the rules definitely still apply the same as if you were in the office. So these are a few things to consider:

·        Conduct yourself appropriately and be respectful of others, their opinions and beliefs. Avoid topics that are likely to become heated and, be prepared to walk away and get on with enjoying the party if controversy arises.

·        Make sure you are familiar with company policies and codes of conduct before you attend the event.

·        Drink sensibly and eat well to slow alcohol absorption.

·        Look out for your colleagues and guests and ask for assistance if you believe somebody’s welfare might be compromised.

·        Don’t participate in behaviour that may be perceived as offensive, or explicit or of behaviour which may be considered sexually overt.

·        Be mindful about social media in terms of what you post or how you communicate with colleagues from work.

 

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