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After a year of working tirelessly, your team rightly look forward to the staff Christmas party to let their hair down. But as an employer, it’s important you understand your obligations before booking a venue or hiring the Santa costume. Under common law and the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) (“the Act”), employers are required to provide a safe working environment for employees. Under section 20 of the Act, the following factors are relevant to assessing the safety of a work environment:

  • The likelihood of hazard or risk and the degree of harm that would result;
  • What the employer knows or should reasonably have known about the hazard or risk;
  • The availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce the hazard or risk; and
  • The cost of eliminating or reducing the hazard or risk.

Below, we provide some practical tips to help employers comply with their obligations and survive the office Christmas party. 

What are the Risks Associated With the Staff Christmas Party?

You will likely provide some alcohol so your employees can raise a glass, meaning: 

  1. Their motor functions are less controlled or reliable;
  2. Their social inhibitions are lowered; and
  3. Their decision-making abilities are weaker.

All these effects are reasonably foreseeable, so the law expects employers to take them into account when planning and managing work functions. 

Employers should also turn their minds to how employees are expected to get to and from the Christmas party. One way of dealing with this issue would be to set up a designated driver program which provides a reward for employees who agree to transport employees to and from the event safely or to arrange paid transport for your team. These days there are private companies that can provide breath-testing at events, which can benefit both staff and employers.

Ensure that you clearly state the event’s start and end time to limit the potential for liability. If staff want to ‘kick on’, they may do so at their own risk (of doing or saying something inappropriate. It’s all fun and games until someone drunk Tweets from the work social media account).

Christmas Functions Can Still Constitute a Workplace

It may only take a couple of drinks for that workplace crush to manifest into words or actions that make the other person feel uncomfortable, harassed or intimidated. Also, tensions between staff members could erupt at work functions – particularly with the addition of alcohol. For large organisations, smaller department celebrations are worth considering as they may be easier to manage. It’s then important to remind your team that the Christmas party is a work function where all staff policies and obligations continue to apply. 

Key Takeaways

When properly planned and managed, the staff Christmas party should be an enjoyable reward for employees at the end of a hard year’s work. It’s important that employers take steps to mitigate the risks associated with such events. Those in leadership roles ought to lead by example at staff functions by exhibiting the calibre of conduct the company expects. If you have any questions about your employment law obligations this silly season, get in touch on 1300 544 755.


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