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Don’t let your Christmas party become a workplace claim

Male and female work colleagues socialising and drinking champagne. Christmas decoration. WorkPlacePLUS branding.

Work Christmas parties provide a well-earned opportunity to have fun with your staff and celebrate your achievements. But employers beware: Christmas parties are a WHS minefield.

Employers are responsible for minimising risks at work functions by:

  • Establishing and regularly reviewing your policies and procedures, including your prevention and response to WHS risks and managing serious workplace incidents.

  • Ensuring ahead of time that your staff know the workplace guidelines and expectations around behaviour and alcohol consumption, including reviewing your code of conduct.

  • Checking the venue for safety hazards and COVIDSafe compliance.

  • Limiting the amount of alcohol being served and ensuring your staff are not intoxicated.

  • Providing suitable transport to ensure everyone gets home safely.

Christmas should be a happy time, not a time to worry about unplanned workplace claims

To mitigate risk, plan ahead. Here are the main factors to consider:

The Christmas Party is still a “work activity”

Even if it is held at an off-site venue or outside of normal work hours, your Christmas party is still legally considered a workplace. Remind your employees that appropriate workplace code of conduct still applies. Their behaviour needs to follow the same professional standards as usual.

Don’t pay more for your Christmas party than you had planned – make sure you are complying with safety policies and reminding your staff to adhere to your code of conduct.

Alcohol exacerbates the Work Health & Safety risks

Do you have a policy on alcohol consumption at work functions? The potential risks of drunken injurious accidents and sexual harassment are more likely to be an issue if your employees drink too much.

In a 2015 case where an employee was fired for workplace bullying and sexual harassment at a work Christmas party, the Fair Work Commission found that the worker was unfairly dismissed because the employer supplied unlimited amounts of free alcohol[1]. This costly outcome highlights the need for employers to be vigilant about risk mitigation when planning a work function.

Accidents happen — check for safety hazards

Alcohol can impair people’s judgment and reaction times, so take extra care to ensure there are no potential hazards that may cause a trip, slip, or fall. If your Christmas party is being held at an off-site venue, inspect the premises ahead of time and make any potential risk areas out of bounds. It is also a good idea to confirm that the venue has Public Liability insurance.

Be prepared to investigate any issues or complaints

If an accident or WHS incident occurs at your workplace function, or if you receive a complaint or allegation of inappropriate conduct, it is important to respond in a timely manner by conducting a fair and confidential workplace investigation, following the principles of procedural fairness. In some cases, hiring an experienced and independent workplace investigator is the best option.

Don’t pay more for your Christmas party than you had planned – make sure you are complying with safety policies and reminding your staff to adhere to your code of conduct.

For more information, please contact us today.


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