Lyndall Humphries, Senior Associate
The end of the year is fast approaching and so too is your end of year work function. Start thinking now about how to avoid a festive fallout. You don’t want to be that event in the news after the festive season! What type of scenarios are we talking about?
- the case where a team leader repeatedly made undesired romantic and sexual propositions to a colleague, despite her clear decline and refusal, and suddenly kissed another colleague in an unsolicited and unprovoked manner;
- the case where a project coordinator aggressively harangued a colleague, repeatedly pushed him in the chest and then threw him fully clothed into a swimming pool. He also refused to leave the premises and initiated a fight with the General Manager who he then pushed to the ground; or
- the case where a disability support worker made inappropriate and offensive comments and on previous occasions caused a colleague discomfort by wearing to past Christmas parties an apron displaying woman’s breasts with tinsel attached.
These are just some of the situations that have arisen following a festive fallout. Here are six proactive measures for employers to consider ahead of the festive season.
- Be creative in the planning of your function to be as inclusive as possible. Not all functions need to be centered around the consumption of alcohol. Be sensitive to the needs of employees of different cultural backgrounds and faiths and those with family or carer’s responsibilities. For example, you may wish to consider whether it might be more appropriate to hold your function during the day rather than after work, whether it might be suitable to invite family members of employees and whether it might be more culturally sensitive to describe the event as an end of year function rather than a Christmas party.
- Before the function, be clear with employees about the standards of behaviour expected of them in accordance with company policies (including those dealing with bullying and harassment, anti-discrimination and social media) and the consequences of not meeting those standards. Have your policies in order before the festive season begins.
- It is a good idea to specify clear starting and finishing times for your function. Setting boundaries will help to reduce the risk of an employer being found liable for the actions of employees that take place after the function. While it may be common for employees to kick on after the function, this shouldn’t be organised or proposed by the employer. These are important steps for employers to minimise risks, but it can be difficult to draw a line between what is work related conduct and what is beyond the employment context.
- An end of year function is a good opportunity to reward employees for their efforts during the year. If drinks are provided it is important that employers ensure the responsible service of alcohol and satisfy themselves that any external function provider will do the same. Think about arranging for drinks to be handed out upon request rather than allowing employees to help themselves.
- Appoint a senior manager to supervise the overall running of the function rather than leaving it to run itself. The manager should be responsible for remonstrating with employees about bad behaviour, limiting or refusing alcohol to employees who are visibly intoxicated or suggesting that employees head home.
- If allegations of bad behaviour are raised after the function, conduct an investigation into the facts and allegations and ensure that procedural fairness is afforded to the employees in question. Any disciplinary action that is taken against an employee should not be inconsistent with the treatment of other employees for similar or worse incidents.
We hope these proactive measures help you to enjoy the festive season without fear of legal implications. If you would like further information on the above please contact a member of the PCS Legal Team.