'TIS THE SEASON TO BE…..CAUTIOUS!
"'Twas a few weeks before Christmas, when all through the workplace, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse"
…. that's not entirely correct. One creature that does traditionally stir at this time of year in many workplaces is the HR Manager, who plays the role of Scrooge as he or she proceeds to advise their fellow workplace inhabitants that they need to behave at the upcoming work Christmas party, lest Santa will not be delivering his goodies this year!
For those of you that don't have your own HR Scrooge inhabiting the workplace, please allow us to play the role and advise you that, whilst Christmas is certainly a time of joy, goodwill, recognition and celebration of what has been achieved in the workplace over the past year, there are genuine reasons to exercise caution in relation to work-related Christmas functions. After all, you want the Christmas event to be remembered for the right reasons, not the wrong ones!
If you need some convincing, consider that an employee attending a work-related Christmas party who fell over during the course of the night and broke her leg was deemed to have sustained the injury in the course of her employment and hence was eligible for workers' compensation (Wolmear v Travelodge Australia Ltd). In another case, a woman in the UK was awarded an out of court settlement for a reported £1m after she was distressed by a colleague's sexual comments and jokes at a work Christmas party, and was not satisfied with her employer's subsequent investigation and action in relation to her complaint (Weston v Merrill Lynch).
Here are some tips for managing the risks and protecting your team at work Christmas events:
Before the event:
- Send a friendly staff email where you outline what is acceptable and what is unacceptable
- Refer to relevant policies (bullying and harassment, WHS etc) and advise that they still apply, regardless of where the function is being held
- Emphasise restraint with alcohol
- Have a clear start and finish time
- Make it clear to staff that post-party activities are on their own time and the company does not endorse any activities that happen after the official function ceases
- If you're inviting staff to bring their partners to the event, ensure your invitation is inclusive and does not leave you exposed to claims of discrimination (e.g. ensure people who may have same-sex partners or be in de-facto relationships feel able to bring their partners if they so choose)
- If you're having a workplace "Kris Kringle", "Secret Santa" or similar, ensure staff are advised that demeaning, offensive or insensitive gifts are a no-go
- Appoint responsible managers to supervise and give them clear authority to act if they see inappropriate behaviour
- Check that your insurance policies cover the type of function you're planning – if not, make a decision about whether or not you should go ahead with the event
- If you can, hold the event offsite
- Promote the event as a fun, activity-filled celebration where alcohol is not the focus.
At the event:
- Ensure alcohol is served responsibly. If possible, ensure your employees are being served by Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) trained bar staff.
- Avoid table service and 'top-ups' as it makes it harder for employees to keep track of how many drinks they've had.
- Ensure plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks are available to everyone
- Hold the party away from the office if possible.
If something goes wrong:
- If someone gets too intoxicated, send them home safely straight away
- If supervising managers are aware of inappropriate behaviour, take immediate steps to stop the behaviour
- Follow your relevant policies and procedures carefully
- Take disciplinary action in accordance with your discipline and termination policies and procedures
- Don't sweep incidents under the carpet and hope that they go away! Act quickly, fairly and decisively.
"Satisfied that his work was done for another year, the HR Scrooge crushed another couple of party hats before scurrying off into the night…."