Work-related social events can be particularly enjoyable and are a way of developing better working relationships.
Don't allow this possibility to be spoiled. By being aware of, and being prepared for the potential unintended consequences, many of the risks associated with these events can be reduced or removed.
Christmas parties and other social functions which originate, or are sponsored by the employer are sufficiently work related to come within a range of legislation including:
- Occupational Safety and Health legislation
- A range of anti-discrimination legislation, including provision for dealing with sexual and racial harassment
- Criminal code, including assault either of a physical or verbal nature.
As with the normal workplace, the employer has a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure employee safety and health and to provide an environment free from harassment and discrimination.
Certain inappropriate behaviour at staff functions, much of which can be attributed to the "good cheer" which often accompanies these events, can lead to employers being held vicariously liable. Such behaviour includes things like unwelcome touching and kissing, derogatory humour in Christmas skits, inappropriate gifts and "party tricks".
Tips for managers and supervisors
Managers and supervisory staff need to be aware that their failure to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries or harassment during these festivities can result in significant liability for the University that can have a sobering effect in the New Year.
To limit these risks, managers and supervisors are requested to consider the following information and actions:
- Remind employees that functions (such as Christmas functions) are considered an extension of the workplace, so the same rules apply, even when the party is held off site. Remember there are expectations of appropriate behaviour.
- Revisit the University's policies dealing with discrimination and harassment - bring them to the attention of employees. (Sexual harassment is behaviour of an unwelcome nature with sexual overtones.)
- Issue a friendly reminder to employees about the dangers of excessive drinking and drink driving.
- If the giving of 'Kris Kringle' (anonymous gift) is part of the function, remind employees that gifts need to be appropriate, as this is not the opportunity to embarrass or humiliate. There may be a risk of harassment or discrimination, which may lead to equal opportunity or personal injury claims.
- Be culturally aware and sensitive to the fact that not all staff celebrate Christmas.
- If alcohol is available make sure that there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks. Consideration also needs to be given to staff who have other dietary and/or cross-cultural requirements.
- Take reasonable steps to ensure the supply of alcohol is limited.
- Make sure that the venues and activities are appropriate and do not put people at risk.
- Provide supervision to prevent inappropriate behaviour and excessive drinking. Intoxicated employees should be asked tactfully to stop drinking and if necessary, to leave the function with safe transport arranged to ensure they do not drive.
- Do not supply alcohol to employees or guests who are below the legal drinking age.
- Set definite start and finish times.
- Ensure employees have made arrangements to get home safely, such as skippers, public transport, and taxis.
- If appropriate, set up a 'buddy' system so people look after each other during the event.
Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable precautions for their own safety and health and that of others. They are also expected to behave in such a way that the workplace is free from harassment and other abusive behaviour. Employees should avoid becoming so intoxicated that their behaviour becomes a hazard to themselves, or others.
Share this information with your staff as appropriate.
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