All wrapped up in risk: employer advice for end-of-year parties

We’ve all been to one of those end-of-year parties. You let your hair down, tell your colleagues what you really think of them, crack a few off-colour jokes and cupid’s arrow strikes over a few too many beers or wines.

That’s all well and good, unless you’re the boss. For you, end-of-year parties are a gift to staff morale, but come all wrapped up in risk. An end-of-year party, even off-site and out-of-hours, is considered an extension of the workplace. A few fumblings is all it takes for a sexual harassment claim. Employers have also found themselves liable for bullying, discrimination and workplace health and safety claims arising from out-of-control end-of-year parties.

Remember, you’ve got a duty of care to your staff. Here’s what you need to know:

Before the party

  • Have clear policies – all workplaces need comprehensive human resources and health and safety policies. Document your alcohol policy. If you don’t, you could be found negligent.

  • Set the scene  send all staff members and management an email reminding them that the end-of-year party is a work event. Let them know that discrimination and harassment are just as unacceptable at the end-of-year party as they are on an ordinary work day.

  • Have a complaints process that way if there’s an incident at the party, it can be investigated and resolved promptly.

  • Check your insurance cover does your Workers Compensation insurance cover the end-of-year party?

  • Check the venue for safety  a risk assessment of function venues identifies possible health and safety issues and will help you monitor these at the event.

  • Organise after-party transport  that might be a mini-bus or even Cabcharge vouchers.

On the day

  • Use bar staff  give your bar staff the authority to refuse to serve intoxicated members of staff. Allowing your staff to drink excessive amounts of alcohol could breach Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) rules.

  • Plan the food and drink  ensure you have sufficient food and low/non-alcohol alternatives. Encourage drinkers to consume water as well.

  • Have clear start and finish times  you don’t want your staff drinking late into the night. Make sure staff members are aware that after parties are undertaken in their own time.

  • Stay sober yourself  we hate to be spoil sports, but you, or someone else, need to supervise the goings on.

The information provided in this article is general in nature only and does not constitute legal advice.
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