As Christmas approaches, many groups of people who work together throughout the year will attend social events with colleagues and friends that connect to and through work.
With such events come responsibilities for all in attendance from managers and supervisors to staff to ensure that no incidents occur to cause harassment or distress to any attendee.
Attendance at the work Christmas party may be considered to be “in the course of employment”. The duty falls upon the employer if organising such an event to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees applies equally at the Christmas party. As such a start and conclusion time should be set for such events. If you don’t meet your duty of care, then bullying and sexual harassment, compensation, termination of employment and work health and safety claims can become major concerns. In 2022, there has been a considerable increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints in particular at work related social events post-pandemic restrictions.
Sexual harassment claims can and do arise after Christmas parties. Employers risk being vicariously liable for the actions of employees if they fail to take reasonable steps to prevent conduct such as unwelcome touching, hugging or kissing; unwanted sexual advances; suggestive comments or jokes; or inappropriate Kris Kringle gifts. Sexual Harassment complaints also require full and formal investigation of any such complaint if made post event.

Be prepared

  1. Remind staff about what is appropriate workplace behaviour and that these standards apply even if the party occurs outside of working hours and away from the office.
  2. Set clear start and finish times and do not serve alcohol beyond this time.
  3. Encourage employees to know their own limitations when it comes to alcohol consumption and ensure management lead by example.
  4. Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks.
  5. Ensure that the venue is close to safe transportation home and advise employees that they should not drive if they intend to drink.
  6. Appoint a senior employee to oversee the function, which may include taking appropriate action to address escalating behaviour such as sending some people home or even closing the bar.
  7. Deal with all complaints promptly and properly.

HR Duo can help with advice and support in this and many other areas. contact us to find out more.

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