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End of year celebrations - Managing your festive spirit and your obligations

As the festive season draws nearer, and with many COVID-19 restrictions easing, work parties and other social functions (both employer hosted, and client hosted) will be starting to fill the calendar.  Whilst hosting a work Christmas party or similar festive celebrations can be a great way to reward employees for their hard work, it can also be a source of anxiety for employers who may be unsure of their obligations at such events.

Regardless of whether a work Christmas party is held onsite at the workplace or offsite at an alternate venue, such an event will be a work function.  Similarly, should an employer require an employee to attend a customer hosted function, this will be considered a work-related function also.

As a sponsored work event, employers may be held liable for the actions and conduct of their employees not only during the official function, but for their actions afterwards should an employee choose to continue their celebrations port the event. Similarly, an employer’s health and safety obligations will continue to apply and therefore must be taken into consideration when planning and hosting such functions. Injuries incurred at a worker related function, including a Christmas party, could become the subject of a workers' compensation claim.

As workplace Christmas functions are deemed to be a work activity, all employees are expected to continue to abide by their employer’s workplace policies, the expected standards of behaviour and codes of conduct. Any employee whose behaviour or actions breaches the code of conduct or company policies at the function may be subject to disciplinary action. 

While the need to consider the range of employer obligations for such functions can appear to make it all “too hard” or seem to remove the ability for employers to celebrate and have fun, by undertaking pre-event planning, precautionary measures can be implemented to minimise the potential risks while still ensuring that all attendees can have a good time. To achieve this balance, it is recommended that the following steps be taken:

 

Before the Christmas Party:

  • Clearly outline the Christmas party plans. Provide clear communication to all employees regarding the details of the event, including:

- the venue details;

- specific start and finishing times;

- any transport arrangements made for employees to get to/from the venue.

  • Ensure that all employees are reminded that this is a work event and therefore workplace policies, behaviour and code of conduct applies.
  • Ensure that appropriate policies are in place which covers matters such including bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, and social media.
  • Prior to the function, remind all employees of their responsibilities, outlining what types of behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable, and include reference to the relevant policies and to the need to exercise restraint in the consumption of alcohol.
  • Ensure that you are aware of, and understand, your current obligations in relation to COVID-19 
  • Identify, document and communicate what reasonable precautions will be taken to avoid the spread of COVID-19, including how you will ensure any vaccination requirements are adhered to.
  • Remind all staff members of COVID-Safe requirements before the function

At the Christmas Party:

  • Ensure that alcohol is served responsibly.
  • Limit the serving of alcohol to people who are becoming intoxicated.
  • Provide sufficient food and ensure non-alcoholic drinks are available.
  • Appoint a senior manager for party organisers and staff to confer with if any problems or issues arise during the event.
  • Ensure there is a clear start and finish time for the event.

After the Christmas Party:

  • If any employees have drunk too much at the event, to ensure employers meet their duty of care for their employees, responsibility needs to be taken to ensure that they can get home safely. When planning the Christmas function, consideration should be given to employee travel requirements, including ending the function before public transport stops running, having a venue that is close to public transport, encouraging car pooling, providing cab charge vouchers, ensuring the phone numbers for local cab companies are available and encouraging staff to use them.
  • Clearly communicate to employees that any activities or continued celebrations which take place post the official function finish time are not endorsed by, or the responsibility of, the employer.
  • Having a clear finish time for the event will work to support that an employer’s responsibility ends at the close of the official function and minimising the level of risk should any employees wish to continue celebrating.  

While undertaking some extra steps when planning your Christmas celebrations may seem tedious, taking the time to ensure that all employees are aware of, and understand their responsibilities and expectations at the event will help employers to relax and focus on enjoying the night.

If you require advice or assistance on any HR matter, please contact the team at HR Advice Online at [email protected] or on 1300 720 004.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors, such as government legislation changes, may not be up to date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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