It is that time of year where the Christmas decorations are displayed and the social events are in abundance!
Whilst it may be the ‘most wonderful time of the year’, for work functions and professional networking events, it can get out of hand, particularly where there is complimentary alcohol offered. Employers need to ensure that they clearly articulate to employees the behavioural expectations at work Christmas functions and networking events for end of year celebrations.
It is a busy time of year for most, which also leads to a greater number of employees taking the opportunity to ‘let their hair down’ at work functions. This is exacerbated where alcohol is involved, and even more so, where the alcohol is provided complimentary.
Some employers may have a misunderstanding of their responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees where a function is held off-site. However, as we have seen in cases before the Fair Work Commission and Federal Courts, the responsibility of the employer extends beyond the physical workplace (for example, see Rose v Telstra Corp Ltd  IRCommA 1592). Conversely, some employees may not turn their minds to the fact that whilst functions off-site may be a cause for celebration, they still have obligations and are expected to adhere to the standards of behaviour, just as if they were at work.
When organising a work Christmas function, it is important to remind staff of their responsibility to conduct themselves in a manner in accordance with the company policies and standards that are expected of all staff. One way to approach this, is to provide a reminder of the expectations of employees in the invitation to the Christmas party. Alternatively, a friendly reminder can be sent to staff in the days leading up to the function about the expectations of their conduct at the event. This can be coupled with providing a copy of the relevant company policy documents, which may include those regarding harassment and discrimination as well as the complaints process for employees if they have a grievance.
Some steps that employers can take at the function include:
• Providing transport to and from work related functions and Christmas parties;
• Set specific start and finish times for Christmas parties, even for individual team Christmas events, as well as larger company events;
• If providing alcohol, ensure that there are non-alcoholic beverages served, as well as providing food;
• Nominate a senior executive to monitor the function and behaviour of employees, to step in, if required.
While it is impossible to eliminate all possible risks at work functions, taking steps to remind employees of their obligations and behaviour expectations, as well as implementing strategies outlined above, those associated risks can be decreased.
If you are seeking to review workplace policies or enforcement of policies, as well as the process involved in conducting investigations, please contact us to speak with one of our employment lawyers.
For further information and specialised legal advice, please call (03) 9642 0435