We have entered a dangerous season of embarrassment, drunken
karaoke performances, regretted romances, forgettable fumblings and
saying things about colleagues or bosses you later wish you
Yes, the office Christmas party time is upon us once again and
while grog salesmen and karaoke bar owners rejoice, employees who,
flushed with festivities lose their professional façade and
do silly things, may not.
There's one big important rule to remember at office parties
– the same rules that apply to behaviour in the workplace
also apply to work functions, even if it takes place away from the
office and outside work hours.
Sexual harassment, bullying, abuse, discrimination, unwelcome
touching or over-familiarity, suggestive comments and off-colour
jokes, inappropriate gifts and awards or personal questions that
are too personal – they are all still a big no-no.
Employment law offers no excuse for what you do while drunk at
an office Christmas party, and that can make it a busy time of year
for lawyers helping those handed dismissal notices the next day or
helping employers deal with a colleague in disgrace.
To avoid problems, it helps for employers to lay the ground
rules early. Perhaps a simple email to tell those attending the
party what sort of behavior will not be tolerated.
No need to be a Grinch, just a gentle reminder beforehand that
unwelcome conduct is not welcome.
Employers do have a duty of care at work functions and should be
wary and look after vulnerable staff. Be mindful of the venue - is
it safe? Keep an eye on alcohol consumption. Help people home with
a hired vehicle or taxi vouchers.
Have a clear complaint resolution process. Be conscious that the
law is not always clear as to when a work function ends and private
All common-sense stuff but it doesn't hurt to be reminded at
this time of year.
The best advice is, as always: workers - be festive, not
foolish; employers - plan ahead and take precautions.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Long experience representing many of Australia's leading employers has taught us that in employment litigation the identity of an employee's representative is a major factor in how employee litigation runs.
Australian employees receive certain entitlements (such as annual leave and superannuation) where contractors do not.
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