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Christmas Parties – avoiding the workplace hangover

"With the Christmas season approaching and offices across the country gearing up for their end of year functions, Ai Group has released advice on how to avoid a post-party workplace hangover," Head of Ai Group Workplace Lawyers, Michael Mead, said today.

"The Fair Work Commission has dealt with many cases over the years related to the aftermath of office events. Incidents have involved allegations of sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct which if mishandled can result in unfair dismissal claims.

"Technically a Christmas party is likely to be considered an activity arising out of, or in the course of, employment. This means that both the employer and employees have obligations which must be maintained despite the festive season.

"Careful planning and actions that minimise risk will help to protect employees and ensure the year ends in a celebration rather than in a court.

"Firstly, ensure your workplace harassment and discrimination policies are up-to-date and understood by staff. 

"Secondly, the venue should be chosen carefully. For example, are the factory grounds an appropriate place for the family BBQ? Does the selected external venue have appropriate safety standards? If you are using an external venue, will there be members of the general public occupying the same venue and does this create additional risks that need to be managed?

"Thirdly, the impact of alcohol is the biggest risk factor. Actions should be taken to minimise that risk such as setting of reasonable limits on the supply of alcoholic drinks and providing the option of non-alcoholic drinks. It is good practice to nominate at least one senior staff member who will not consume alcohol to supervise the consumption of alcohol during the function and to ask people to stop drinking if they have obviously had enough.

"Fourthly, avoid an open-ended function and ensure there are clear start and finish times. It should be very clear at a particular time that the workplace function is over and the employer involvement is at an end.   

"Finally, actively discourage employees who have been consuming alcohol from driving home after the function and ensure all are aware of public transport options.  

"Taking these relatively simple steps could help prevent a serious workplace situation,"  Mr Mead said.

An Ai Group Podcast on '5 Steps to Avoiding A Christmas Party Workplace disaster' is available at this link.

A Case Study of a Fair Work Commission post-Christmas-Party unfair dismissal case is available at this link.

For further comment: Nicola Street - 0414 614 069