Australia: Don't fear the Christmas cheer: making work parties fun and safe

Last Updated: 29 November 2016
Article by Michael Byrnes

Managing the risk from a Christmas function doesn't mean you have to be the workplace Scrooge.

It's that time of year. Houses festooned in garish Christmas lights. Re-runs of "Love Actually" on the TV. Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You" on high rotation on the radio.

That also means that many workplaces are about to hold their Christmas parties.

As with almost anything in life that can be enjoyable, there are potential downsides which employers must be aware of, as courts and tribunals have made it clear that an official employer Christmas party will constitute a work function, and that the employer may be liable for events that occur during it.

Employers can, however, walk the line between an uncomfortably repressed tea party and a bacchanalia by taking a few steps before, during and after their workplace Christmas parties.

Before the party

Undertake due diligence on the venue: Ensure that the venue is fit for purpose, is not going to constitute a work health and safety hazard (particularly having regard to the probability that staff will have consumed alcohol) and that they will co-operate with you in ensuring a low risk (but enjoyable) event.

Consider additional risks associated with venues that are in inaccessible or dangerous locations or harbour cruises (which, for some reason, always seem to be in a class of their own). Venues that are out of the way or in isolated areas should be avoided.

Consider asking the venue what its policy on obtaining surveillance footage is, in case you need it for an investigation after the function.

Responsible service of alcohol: Ensure that the venue has adopted responsible service of alcohol (RSA) and inquire how it will implement it during the evening.

Be careful with the theme: Many employers have themed Christmas parties. Ensure the theme is appropriate and not likely to cause offence or be exclusionary.

Establish clear start and finish times: Because your party is a work function, you must draw a clear line on when the official festivities start and finish, and notify staff of those times in advance. Which brings us to...

The "good behaviour" email: You know the one. We've all seen variations on the theme. It's the workplace equivalent of safety demonstrations on planes; they may have become trite and are often mocked but are nevertheless necessary.

Ideally, you want your employees to read this, so you can make it more engaging by avoiding a didactic tone, and injecting some humour into it, but make sure you don't trivialise or obscure the importance of the underlying messages.

Send an email to staff about the Christmas function stating:

  • that workplace policies will continue to apply during the function (in particular, any drug and alcohol, sexual harassment and bullying policies);
  • the start and finish time of the function;
  • the importance of not engaging in conduct that breaches policies or brings themselves or the employer into disrepute (and the potential consequences if they do); and
  • that employees should be judicious about what they post to social media in respect of the event, in particular avoiding posts that could humiliate or bully colleagues or potentially generate adverse publicity for the employer and/or staff.

During the party

Responsible manager: In the same way schools have prefects, Christmas functions should have at least one "responsible manager", who will remain stone cold sober throughout the evening and identify, monitor and address:

  • RSA by the venue;
  • consumption of alcohol by staff;
  • general conduct of staff; and
  • any safety issues that might arise throughout the evening.

While there is little doubt that the responsible manager will have drawn the short straw for the night, they discharge an important function in managing the risks that can arise during it. A "responsible manager" should be someone in a senior position with the authority and capacity to credibly deal with them.

Service of alcohol: Ensure that the RSA principles are observed and implemented, which might mean having the responsible manager liaise with the venue contact during the party. Allowing employees to take alcoholic drinks for themselves in a completely unfettered way is a recipe for problems. Check that there is plenty of water and non-alcoholic drinks available.

Notify staff when the event has ended: An announcement should be made that the event has formally ended. Ideally, do not announce any after-parties or other events, because this can create an impression that they are held under the auspices of the employer, and thus are work functions.

Travel arrangements: To the extent practicable, ensure that attendees have arrangements to get home safely after the event.

After the party

Complaints and conduct issues: Attendees should already have been placed on notice that workplace policies continue to apply at the Christmas party, including policies relating to sexual harassment and bullying. Any complaints or issues arising from the function should be dealt with in accordance with the applicable policy.

For incidents that occur after the party officially concludes, there might be a live question as to whether the relevant incident(s) occurred at work, or whether it is a private matter outside the purview of workplace policies and the employment relationship. This will depend upon a careful examination of the circumstances of each case.

If an investigation is required, try to obtain evidence before memories fade and employees start going away for the Christmas/New Year break. This includes getting any necessary surveillance footage from the venue before it is erased.

Monitor social media: To the extent possible and appropriate, keep an eye on social media postings to ensure that the employer and attendees at the party are not being brought into disrepute by injudicious or indiscreet social media postings of the function.

Media outlets looking for easy content would consider them manna from heaven, especially if they involve particularly outrageous behaviour or culturally insensitive costumes or performances. While a photo or social media ban of such events is almost certainly impractical and counterproductive, nevertheless employees should be urged to be judicious in their posting and comply with the employer's social media policy.

What not to do

Go old school: Watch out for the maverick manager who wants to grab a microphone and encourage attendees to drink as much as possible and turn your party into an episode of "The Benny Hill Show". Employers should get all senior management to be consistent on messaging.

The victim blaming message: Some guides suggest that employees be told to dress modestly to avoid being sexually harassed. This is an anachronistic, unhelpful message that seeks to shift the blame for sexual harassment from perpetrators to victims, and won't play well in court if tested. That said, however, it might be appropriate to remind employees to skip the mankini.

Forget it's the workplace: Employees should be reminded that a Christmas party is not a licence to do things in the workplace that they would never otherwise do. A profanity-laden tirade directed at the boss, sleazy proposition to another staff member they fancy, or wanting to stage their own version of the Rumble in the Jungle with a staff member they despise are all as unacceptable at the Christmas party as they are in the office.

Managing the risk from a Christmas function doesn't mean you have to be the workplace Scrooge, muttering "Bah, humbug!" at anything that might generate fun and good cheer. Some due diligence and clear communication before the function, enforcing parameters during the function, and (if needed) prompt addressing of issues after the function can ensure a good time can be had by all without a nasty employment litigation hangover.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.