The 'silly season' is upon us and festive workplace parties are under way.

Employers often choose to host holiday work parties to boost morale and to reward employees for their efforts over the past year. Despite those good intentions, employers can face liability for poor behaviour by employees and liability for breaching health and safety legislation, even if the party is held off-site.

Employees can also face issues if their behaviour at a work party has been unacceptable. Those issues can often hurt employees' careers and even result in instant dismissal.

There are many holiday work party considerations for both employers and employees to be aware of, so we've put together some tips for you to ensure a safe and happy festive season.

Employers hosting a work party:

  1. If you are serving alcohol, provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages to help reduce the risk of inappropriate or alcohol-fuelled behaviour.
  2. Ensure that you have considered how employees will get home safety. While you are not required to pay for taxis, if the function is out of town, or at a remote location provide some transport to get employees back into town.
  3. While it is important to encourage everyone to have a good time, employees should still be reminded that normal workplace standards of conduct will be in force at the party and misconduct at, or after, the party can result in disciplinary action.
  4. Having a sober supervisor present can help to ensure everyone's safety. Giving the sober supervisor some guidance as to what to do in common situations would also be helpful.
  5. Ensure you have identified significant health and safety hazards and have planned strategies to manage them.

Employees attending a work party:

  1. If you are drinking alcohol, be mindful of how much you are drinking. Over-indulging could lead to behaviour or conduct that results in disciplinary action or harms your career.
  2. Keeping conversations light and fun makes it easier to enjoy each other's company and relax. Avoid talking shop, gossiping, telling off colour jokes, getting involved in heated arguments and making sexual comments or advances.
  3. Making an effort to talk to a few colleagues or supervisors who you don't know very well can be a great opportunity to build rapport. It can be as easy as introducing yourself on a personal level and talking about hobbies or interests.
  4. Holiday work parties are an extension of the business. Dressing appropriately is important, even if you are wearing something festive or themed.

Following the tips set out above mean that employers can hear the sound of reindeer on the roof and are less likely to hear the sound of post-holiday party litigation approaching. Employees will be better placed to return to their duties after the holidays, without the threat of disciplinary action hanging over their heads.

If something does happen, the prudent approach is to promptly take legal advice, because getting it wrong can be costly.

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.