That time of the year is fast approaching. With the end of the
year comes Christmas functions laced with a fair dose of fun and
While there is no doubt that staff Christmas functions can help
in building morale and team spirit, they can also become a headache
for employers – long after any hangovers have worn-off!
The workplace in this day and age does not necessarily comprise
of the four walls of the building where staff spend their time
during business hours. This is in part why the activities of staff
at employer endorsed Christmas functions should be of concern to
The mix of informal interaction and alcohol at Christmas
functions can lead to a raft of possible legal claims and
complications. These can range from sexual harassment complaints
and workers' compensation claims, to unlawful discrimination
and bullying complaints, just to name several.
In order to mitigate the risk of such issues arising, employers
might consider implementing the following measures:
having sound policies and procedures in place dealing with
matters such as sexual harassment, unlawful discrimination and
educating staff on these policies and procedures, particularly
before any festivities take place, and maintaining records to show
that each relevant staff member attending a function has been given
inspecting the venue where a function is to be held to
ascertain if there are any risks to health and safety posed by it,
and whether measures can be implemented to negate or mitigate those
ensuring that alcohol is served in moderation at any
ensuring that there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks
available at any function;
setting reasonable dress standards for a function (i.e. to
ensure that staff are not putting themselves at a risk of injuring
themselves, or are not provoking unwelcome attention leading to
sexual harassment complaints);
ensuring that some senior managers, who are preferably not
drinking any alcohol, act as "trouble shooters" to head
off any potential issues (such as intoxication or violent
banning the taking of photographs for use on social media at
any function (i.e. an unflattering photograph posted on Facebook,
could form an instance of repeated "unreasonable"
behaviour leading to a possible bullying complaint);
ensuring that staff are given transport home following a
function, or at the very least, are made aware of safe means to
return home following it (e.g. by way of taxi stand or train
station locations, etc.); and
setting and advising staff of definite start and finish times
for a function.
Christmas functions can still be enjoyable events which serve as
a reward to staff for their contribution to a workplace. While some
might consider that the measures discussed above could hamper the
enjoyment of a function, the alternative may be a substantially
worse situation. Ensuring that an intoxicated person is escorted
home during a function, would be better than dealing with the
aftermath of a sexual harassment complaint, not only for the
employer, but for the staff involved.
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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