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Most Australian employers are now busy planning to celebrate the holiday season with their teams either by hosting a party or arranging some other type of get-together. But beware: things can go very wrong, very quickly.

Better HR is kept very busy every January as we deal with the HR fall-out from Christmas party disasters. So this week I’d like to share some five simple – but highly-effective -tips that will help ensure 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 actually very simple: make someone accountable for what happens. Assign responsibility for the event to a senior manager who is happy to avoid – or at least appropriately moderate – their alcohol consumption on the day. 

It’s important to remember though that under Australia’s new Workplace Health and Safety laws, most employers 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 unfolds.

Tip 2: Establish Clear Expectations

It’s now well-established that work-related events such as your office Christmas party count as events ‘in the course of employment’. This means all of your usual employer-related legal obligations – as well all your usual workplace policies and procedures – 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.

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’d be surprised just how many employers don’t carefully consider the impact venues will have on the tone of their event. 

Make sure the venue is safe, work-appropriate and easy to access for all members of your team. If you decide to use a public space, make sure you reserve a dedicated area that will remain within your control.

Tip 4: Set Timeframes For Your Event

Make sure everyone knows when your party officially ends. In other words, make the distinction between the end of your employer-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.

Tip 5: Deal with Complaints Quickly

No matter how well you plan, things can go wrong. If you have followed all of the above steps and something does go awry, 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.

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