Christmas parties can cause more than just a few headaches. For
employers, the risks associated with Christmas celebration events
are very real as it is easy for staff to forget, in that sort of
social setting, that the usual rules around appropriate workplace
behaviour still apply.
Earlier this year, the Fair Work Commission heard an unfair
dismissal case 1 involving an intoxicated male employee
who sexually harassed other employees at a work-related function.
The harassment included persistently asking an employee for her
phone number, telling another she was a "Stuck up
b****" and saying to another "Who the f*** are
you? What do you even do here?". The intoxicated employee
also kissed another employee in an unsolicited and unprovoked
The Commission found that the worker's conduct was a result
of his intoxication and that he was never refused a drink or
prevented from accessing alcohol at the work Christmas party,
despite his visible intoxication. The free-flowing access to
alcohol at a function under the employer's control was a factor
in the Commission finding that the employer's decision to
terminate the worker's employment was harsh, unjust and
unreasonable. The Commission said, "This was ultimately a
result of the fact that [the employer] did not place anyone with
managerial authority in charge of the conduct of the function, but
essentially let it run itself". The Commission also said that
it was "contradictory and self-defeating for an employer to
require compliance with its normal standards of behaviour whilst
simultaneously allowing unlimited service of free alcohol." If
you want to know more about this decision, see our article: Alcohol and work functions can be a dangerous
Another risk that's emerged in recent years is the infamous
"selfie". The vast majority of these photos are innocuous
enough, but if a photo would be considered inappropriate in the
workplace then it is another story. The situation can be made even
worse when inappropriate photos are shared on various social media
So what can employers do to prepare for a fun work-related
function that is trouble free and to help avoid a litigious new
year? Here are our top 10 tips for a well-managed work-related
Remind workers about appropriate workplace behaviour before the
event and tell them that these standards apply, even if the party
occurs outside of working hours and away from the office.
Review workplace policies on sexual harassment and alcohol and
drug use, and ensure that employees are trained in their
Warn employees about the consequences of inappropriate
Set clear start and finish times for your function and
don't serve alcohol beyond this time.
Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks.
Encourage employees to know their own limits when it comes to
alcohol consumption and ensure management lead by example.
Ensure that the party venue is close to safe transportation
home and tell workers that they shouldn't drive if they plan to
Check the venue for possible hazards and make potential risk
Appoint a senior employee to stay sober to oversee the
function, which may require them to address escalating behaviour,
such as sending some people home or even closing the bar.
Deal with all complaints promptly and in line with your
By using these top tips with a little good sense, your workplace
should be able to make it through the silly season with a minimum
of risk and a maximum of enjoyment!
1Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey Joint
Venture  FWC 3156 (26 June 2015).
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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An employee that refused a reasonable offer of settlement was ordered by the FWC to pay his ex-employer's legal costs.
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