Christmas party ghosts.

9 November 2015 | Reading time: 2 minutes

With the festive season fast approaching many employers will be organising the office Christmas party. For many employees who have worked hard over the last 12 months the office Christmas party is an opportunity to unwind and relax with colleagues (at the employer’s expense). Unfortunately, some employees take it upon themselves to engage in excessive drinking and over affectionate behaviour towards other colleagues creating post-party headaches for the employer. According to employment law specialist, Ryan Solomons, employers and employees alike should be aware that the office Christmas party is still a work-related function and that proper standards of behaviour should be observed.

A party… but still a work party.

Even though it’s a party outside of work hours and usually away from the workplace, there remains a connection between the workplace and the event, for the purposes of workplace relations laws. This means that the following policies still apply:

  • sexual harassment;
  • discrimination;
  • drug and alcohol; and
  • health and safety.

Employers risk being vicariously liable for actions of employees if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent inappropriate conduct at these events. This is because the office Christmas party is deemed to be an employer-sponsored event and therefore any incidents or accidents will have occurred ‘in the course of employment’.

Take reasonable care.

Despite the allure of throwing caution to the wind at Christmas parties, employers should take reasonable and proactive steps to reduce the risks of accidents and incidents at parties. Here are some handy tips for employers:

  1. Remind employees that the office Christmas party is still a work event and send copies of policies regarding appropriate behaviour, drugs and alcohol, anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and social media to staff in the days leading up to the event.
  2. Conduct a risk assessment of the party venue to minimise any accidents or injuries.
  3. Avoid serving drinks with high alcohol content and provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks.
  4. Encourage employees to know their own limitations when it comes to alcohol consumption.
  5. Emphasise that any ‘after-party’ arrangements are undertaken by the employees themselves and are in no way endorsed by the employer.

The hangover?

Employers should protect themselves from potential claims arising from the conduct of their employees. Employers can be held vicariously liable for the behaviour of their employees and this is not a trivial issue. The resulting work-related liability and reputational damage can be a long-lasting and costly ‘affair’ (pardon the pun). It might be prudent to remind employees that a failure to observe polices might lead to grounds for disciplinary action and eventual termination.

However, despite these policies, there is absolutely no reason why employees cannot still enjoy themselves at office parties, all within reason, as it is still a season to be jolly! ho ho ho ho……