Christmas Party Guide - from Workplace Law[ 28-Nov-2010 ]
I Hate To Be a Grinch, But…
It’s that time of year again. Nervous? Scared? Perhaps terrified? You should be – your workplace Christmas Party is just around the corner.
Over time, the office Christmas party has become less about peace and goodwill towards all, and more about excessive drinking or overly affectionate employees. Employers need to be aware of the duties they owe their employees at these functions and how to avoid the next-day headaches that can arise. But never fear. Workplace Law’s Christmas Party Guide is here to help you keep the festive season stress free.
Some employers like to thank their workers for the year by having an all-night open bar at the Christmas ‘do - but these employers may like to think twice about their generous offer. With 72% of Australian adults admitting their most embarrassing moments occur when intoxicated, you may well be doing your employees a favour by restricting the drinks. It is undeniable that the most damaging Christmas party incidents occur when alcohol is involved. Sexual harassment complaints, accidents, offensive conversations, embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions, karaoke – they all happen more readily when aided by a little booze. Or a lot of booze.
As an employer, your duty of care extends to work functions. If you thought your IT guy was a little clumsy, imagine him with 12 beers under his belt. If you thought the marketing assistant was a little flirtatious, imagine her after 6 glasses of champagne. Restricting alcohol consumption at these events may prevent more than a hangover.
Try limiting the “open bar” part to the first couple of hours, and don’t put shots or cocktails on the list of allowable drinks. If your party is a sit-down dinner, limit the bottles of wine to one for every three people and make sure there’s sufficient water and soft drink on the table. If your party is a BBQ style event with drinks in bins of ice, make sure you have plenty of light beer and low-alcohol options available, and if it runs out, don’t do a bottle-o run to get more. If having the office party in the office, remember that only qualified persons are allowed to serve alcohol under the responsible service of alcohol laws (and this doesn’t include “Vera” from Accounts, no matter how many shots of Jägermeister she claims to be able to drink). Consider hiring a bartender to serve the drinks (there are several companies that offer this service) – that way, someone will be able to keep an eye on how many drinks everyone has had.
Remember to encourage your employees to know their own limitations. Above all, it is important that management ‘set the standard’ by demonstrating that you can still have fun whilst being responsible.
Location, Location, Location
The venue choice can be critical to the success of the event. Hiring a nightclub with too many dark corners can lead to red faces the next day, or worse – harassment complaints. You might think a harbor cruise is a novel idea, but two years ago a large company had the same novel idea and all went well until someone fell over the edge and almost drowned. If you don’t want to spend the larger part of your night filling out police reports, keep it sensible. Perhaps consider confining the event to a lunch – people are more likely to behave themselves in the daylight. You could give them the rest of the afternoon off. Keep it light-hearted and informal. That way, employees don’t invest too much into it as “the social night of the year” and are less likely to get carried away in one respect or another.
You can’t stop your employees going home with one another (employment usually still stops ‘at the bedroom door’), but you can remind them of harassment policies prior to the event. Send out an email or better still have a training presentation where you go through the key points of what constitutes sexual harassment and discrimination. Remind them that the same rules that apply in the office apply at the Christmas party – just because someone’s put tinsel up, doesn’t mean it’s the right time to try out that explicit/racist/sexist joke they heard. Remind them of the consequences of breaking company policy. If these policies are fresh in their mind, they are less likely to do something that may risk their job or reputation.
Also, advise your employees that if they intend on drinking, they shouldn’t drive. Consider providing CabCharges or hiring a car/bus service for them to use to get home. Remember that your liability may extend to the journey to and from work, and work functions can fall into that category.