Australia: Santa Clause is coming to town - for a merry and responsible Christmas

Last Updated: 30 November 2016
Article by Michael Barnes

A reminder of mutual obligations for behaviour at work-related Christmas functions

Decorations are already up and with Christmas songs playing in all the shops there is no getting around it: the 2016 holiday season is well and truly upon us. End of year functions and Christmas parties are just around the corner and many are thinking about letting their hair down for a night out.

Amidst all the festivities however it is important to spend some time thinking about your approach to work functions as an employee, and how best to ensure you avoid any inappropriate behaviour. Nobody wants to be the office Grinch but inappropriate behaviour at end-of-year functions can have serious impacts on your employment, so the issue warrants consideration.

A 2015 decision from the Fair Work Commission – Stephen Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey NSW Pty Ltd – showcased the heightened risks involved for employees whilst socialising at work functions where there is alcohol involved.

The Keenan case revolved around whether or not an employer can validly terminate a member of their staff on the basis that the employees' conduct at the official Christmas party was inappropriate.

The employee in question arrived at the party a few drinks in and quickly availed himself of the free drinks on offer, rapidly becoming very inebriated. Over the course of the evening he made aggressive and offensive comments to members of management, swore loudly and frequently, verbally harassed several female employees with unwanted advances and eventually kissed a female co-worker on the lips without consent.

When considering their decision the Commission made clear that Mr Keenan's drunken comments constituted bullying behaviour and were a valid ground for dismissal. The decision found that employees have a responsibility to maintain appropriate behaviour even when at celebratory work functions, specifically saying "Mr Keenan should have exercised greater control over his consumption of alcohol in order to ensure he was able to control his behaviour and comply with [the employer's] policies."

Relevantly the most inappropriate behaviour occurred at an unofficial after party, rather than the Christmas party itself. The Commission considered this distinction and held that the events of the unofficial after-party were sufficiently separate to the nature of Mr Keenan's employment as to be deemed a part of his private life.

That is not to say, however, that your employer is unable to investigate behaviour that takes place at unofficial work outings or after-parties nor that an employee is immune from potential disciplinary action. A 2008 decision of the Full Bench of the Commission (Telstra Corporation Limited v Streeter) found that an employee's actions at an unofficial Christmas after-party warranted an investigation of the incident by the employer as it had adverse effects on other employees and caused difficulties in the workplace. In that matter, Ms Streeter had engaged in overt sexual conduct following a work Christmas party in a hotel room with other employees. When questioned about the incident by her employer (following complaints made by her co-workers), Ms Streeter lied. The Full Bench held that the sexual behaviour itself was part of Ms Streeter's personal life and therefore not alone enough to form grounds for termination. The Bench did however find the employer was entitled to investigate the incident and that Ms Streeter severed all trust and confidence with her employer by lying about her conduct during the course of the investigation. Accordingly, her dismissal was held to be valid.

The lesson to be learnt from the Streeter decision is that even when socialising with co-workers in an unofficial setting, an employee should not engage in any behaviour they would be uncomfortable discussing with HR on Monday morning.

The holiday season presents some great opportunities to socialise with and enjoy the company of fellow employees outside of the office but the key to ensuring your work Christmas stays merry and bright is to remember your obligations as an employee and manage your conduct accordingly. Remember, these expectations and standards of behaviour apply for employee conduct at all official work functions, so these are considerations to carry through Christmas and into the New Year.

In simple terms, some thoughts to ensure you have yourself a merry and responsible Christmas

  • Brush up on (don't brush over) your employer's Code of Conduct: you are expected to comply with it at official work functions, which includes the Christmas party.
  • Hold off on any pre-party drinks: do not turn up to the Christmas party already affected by alcohol with your good sense impaired.
  • Remember that management is able to observe your behaviour: your employer is accountable for your actions as an employee at official work functions (as are you) and can discipline you if your behaviour is inappropriate.
  • Don't linger late at the Christmas party: if you and some friends wish to continue the festivities as the night is ending, move to another location away from the official work function.
  • Keep the happy snaps to yourself: there is nothing wrong with taking some pictures with co-workers for memories sake but make sure to consider the context and audience of your photos before publishing them. Social media posts can easily make it back to the office and potentially create controversy with other co-workers or with management.

Merry Christmas

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.

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

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

Authors
 
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
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
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
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (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 www.mondaq.com

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 Mondaq.com’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.

Disclaimer

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.

Registration

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 unsubscribe@mondaq.com 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.

Cookies

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.

Links

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.

Mail-A-Friend

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.

Security

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 webmaster@mondaq.com.

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 EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

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 enquiries@mondaq.com.

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