Christmas functions are notorious for an increased chance of safety-related incidents (both at the function and leaving it) and other risks such as sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination (for example, derogatory comments about a person’s ethnicity or their sick leave history that the employee thinks is ‘just a joke’ or did not intend to offend).
What can you do as an employer?
Adopt a few simple strategies to help stay out of trouble and out of court.
Workplace policies setting out standards of acceptable behaviour
Have a clear written policy about what you consider to be acceptable behaviour and provide appropriate warnings about discipline and termination for breach of the policy.
The policy should make it clear that the rules of behaviour in the office apply equally to events organised by the company that are held outside the premises – be it a pub, club, park or sports ground. All the rules related to bullying, harassment, discrimination, inappropriate comments and sexual behaviour still apply.
It should also be made clear to staff that a work function is not the time to “have a big night” and that obvious intoxication will result in them being asked to leave the function.
Photos taken at Christmas parties and posting on social media
Have a clear social media policy. Your reputation can be severely damaged by inappropriate imagery which is connected to your business being circulated on social media. Some employers have a policy that no images from the party are to be posted online by anyone other than the employer.
Limits on strength and quantity of alcohol served at functions
A basic and obvious rule. Don’t serve too much alcohol. For an office Christmas party you might have light beer, wine and no spirits and plan for the alcohol to run out or for the bar tab to be cut off well prior to closing time.
What happens when the employer-controlled party is over
Many incidents occur in a grey zone. After the office party has finished at its venue, the staff and managers will often party on at other venues. This is where intoxication continues and unsavory events can occur. It can be difficult to ascertain when the employer-controlled office party ends.
One approach to this risk is to have a policy that staff are expected to leave the venue for home once the event is over. This direction should particularly be aimed at those in positions of power over junior staff. A sensible tactic is to provide staff with cab vouchers to get home safely.
Another approach to this risk is for an employer to ensure that there is a designated person, probably the boss, who stays completely sober and keeps a watchful eye to take action if there is any unwanted behaviour. If staff and managers are going on to other venues to continue their celebrations, a good plan is to have the sober boss accompany the staff to these venues.
How should employers respond to unacceptable behaviour at Christmas parties?
So the party is over and there is a problem. An employee’s behaviour was unacceptable. An important step is to take action very promptly. Leaving it to mid-January to start an investigation or take action is often too late and lacks the procedural fairness required to be given to an employee.
You will need to interview those involved in the incident. Take notes. You will then need to put the allegations to the employee. Take notes. Make a decision and put your reasoning in writing very carefully.
You will appreciate that the time and stress of an investigation is very detrimental to an employer, so prevention is always better than cure.
If you would like to discuss your HR issues with us please do not hesitate to call Kelly Salmon on 9135 7618.