Many employers and their teams across Australia are getting ready to celebrate a year of hard work with a Christmas party or social function. Good idea! It’s a nice way to thank staff, to network and to have fun. But as well as making sure everyone has a good time, employers and their staff need to be aware of some of the risks that can arise through social interaction outside the usual work environment, including when alcohol is involved.

Work Christmas parties can give rise to different risks

Know and minimise the risks to have a fun and safe office Christmas party

“We love the idea of employers giving a Christmas party of function for staff to celebrate their achievements,” says National Protective Services CEO Rachaell Saunders. “They just need to consider some of the risks that can come about in these situations and make sure everyone stays safe.  And while ensuring the safety of their team is a top priority, if something does go wrong, there can also be massive repercussions in terms of financial cost and damages to company reputation.”

Here are some tips to help minimise the risks and to provide a safe and inclusive party for everyone. 

Alcohol – set clear expectations
If you are providing alcohol at your party, keep these things in mind. 

  • Email staff before the party outlining your position on alcohol. Let them know that employees who are believed to be too intoxicated will stop being served alcohol and may be asked to leave.
  • Remind employees that they are expected to abide by your Code of Conduct and other related policies, such as sexual harassment and social media policies, even though the party may not be on usual company premises.
  • Provide a range of non-alcoholic drinks for team members who don’t drink or who may be driving.
  • Keep an eye on alcohol consumption throughout the party. Even if you are at an external venue where someone else is serving your employees alcohol, you may still be responsible for ensuring they are not too intoxicated.
  • Ensure there is someone from the management team who remains sober.

Sexual harassment — usual policy applies
Sexual harassment is illegal and includes unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which offends, humiliates and/or intimidates another person. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says that the definition of the “workplace” — and therefore what constitutes workplace sexual harassment — has become “very broad” due to the increase in digital technology, such as email, which means our working hours are no longer limited to 9-5pm. 

It notes that “workplace” can include all interactions between work colleagues, including at Christmas parties. Examples of sexually harassing behaviour include: 

  • unwelcome touching
  • staring or leering
  • suggestive comments or jokes
  • sexually explicit pictures or posters
  • unwanted invitations to go out on dates
  • requests for sex
  • intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person
  • insults or taunts based on sex
  • sexually explicit physical contact
  • sexually explicit emails or SMS text messages.

 

Sexual harassment is not only extremely distressing for the victim, it can also have significant financial implications for the company and its reputation.

Venue – ensure it’s easy to get to
Choose a venue or location that is easy for people to get to and make sure there are some public transport options available. If the venue is difficult to get to, consider providing transport or arranging car pools to minimise the risks of people drinking and driving. If you have older or mobility-impaired people attending, make sure the venue is fitted with necessary ramps and accessible toilets. 

Food and entertainment – make it for everyone
If you are arranging entertainment, perhaps music, a comedian or performers for your Christmas party, make sure the content is appropriate and doesn’t offend anyone.

Ask staff to specify any dietary requirements so you can ensure that the menu caters for everyone.

This information and advice is general in nature and does not take into account your company’s particular situation.