Avoiding Disaster at Your Firm’s Christmas Party
Better HR – Protecting Employers
Amazing as it may seem, it’s now time to once again begin planning your end-of-year workplace party. Like most firms, you’re probably planning to celebrate the holiday season with your employees either by hosting a party or arranging some other type of get-together. But beware: things can go very wrong, very quickly.
Employment Relations specialists – like the team here at Better HR – are kept very busy in January as we deal with the fall-out from Christmas party disasters. We deal with everything from relatively harmless alcohol-related embarrassments all the way through to very serious bullying and sexual harassment claims.
This month we’d like to provide you with some simple – but highly-effective – hints and tips on how to make sure your Christmas party is merry in all the right ways.
Tip 1: Put Someone in Charge
The most effective thing you can do to avoid Christmas-party disasters is very simple: make someone accountable for what happens. Assign responsibility for the event to a partner who is happy to avoid – or at least appropriately moderate – their alcohol consumption on the day. This person will be primarily responsible for ensuring things go to plan.
It’s important to remember though that under Australia’s new Workplace Health and Safety laws, most senior employees are also ‘officers’ and their specific duty – known as the Duty of Due Diligence’ – cannot be delegated to another employee. This ultimately means everyone shares some degree of responsibility for what happens at your firm’s party.
Tip 2: Establish Clear Expectations
It is now well-established that work-related events such as your firm’s Christmas Party are regarded as being events ‘in the course of employment’. This means all of your usual employer-related legal obligations (such as your duty of care towards your employees) as well all your usual workplace policies and procedures will apply for the duration of the event, regardless of where you choose to hold it.
It’s therefore essential that you take pro-active steps to remind your employees that unacceptable conduct will not be accepted and that disciplinary action will be taken in the event of employee misconduct. This reminder could be in the form of a letter or email, or even just a simple verbal reminder (that you should document for your own future reference) provided to your employees well in advance of the event.
Tip 3: Select the Venue Carefully
Having your Christmas party at a co-worker’s house or a family-friendly restaurant is a much safer option than having it at an adult-themed venue! You may think this goes without saying, but you’d be surprised just how many employers don’t carefully consider the impact venues will have on the tone of their event. Make sure you select a venue that is safe, workappropriate and easy to access for all members of your team. If you decide to use a relatively public space – such as a bar – make sure you reserve a dedicated area that will remain within your control throughout the function.
Tip 4: Set a Clear Timeframe For Your Event
Make sure everyone knows when your party officially ends. In other words, make the distinction between the end of your firm-sanctioned Christmas party and the start of unrelated shenanigans as clear as possible. You want to make it clear to everyone that, at a certain point, the event is no longer regarded as being employer-sponsored.
For example, let everyone know in advance that the event will be taking place in the boardroom from 5pm until 9pm and then, at 9pm sharp, be sure to bring things to a formal end and ensure everyone leaves the office safely. One of the clearest signals you can give to your staff that the event is over is to physically close down the venue at the scheduled end time. Booking a private function room and making sure everyone leaves the space at the end of the scheduled event is another good option.
Tip 5: Communicate Options Early and Clearly
Be sure to let your staff know your Christmas party plans as soon as possible. In a small firm this can easily be done informally everyone during a staff meeting, or even on a one-to-one basis with each of your employees.
Letting your team members know about the event early ensures they have more than enough time to investigate transport options, check dietary requirements/options and raise any questions or concerns they may have with you well in advance.
Tip 6: Deal with Complaints Quickly
No matter how well you plan, things can – and occasionally do – go wrong. If you have followed all of the above steps and something does go wrong, you can at least be safe in the knowledge that you did everything within your power to avoid the mishap. But no matter how minor or how serious the event in question is, make sure you take immediate action.
Depending upon the circumstances, immediate action could include standing-down the employee pending a full investigation, arranging a meeting with the employee to discuss the situation, arranging witness statements or even confirming dismissal in the event of serious misconduct.
By following all of the above hints and tips we believe you can quickly, easily and effectively minimise the risk of your firm’s Christmas party turning into a not-so-merry mess.
Have a great month.
David Bates BA(Govt) LL.B(Hons)
This article is intended to provide commentary and general information. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice may be necessary in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this article. Better HR Pty Ltd (https://betterhr.com.au/) is not responsible for the results of any actions taken on the basis of information in this article, nor for any error or omission in this article.