Office party protocol

Too much Christmas cheer could potentially leave employers with a big liability hangover.

With the festive season in full swing employers need to keep in mind that they have a legal responsibility to protect employees against sexual harassment and discrimination. In the atmosphere of social events employers are encouraged to remind employees that the work Christmas party is still a work function and inappropriate behaviour including sexual harassment and discrimination is unlawful and not acceptable.

It is best practice for employers to have clear policies that deal with conduct both within the workplace and at staff functions after work hours. The policies need to clearly identify unacceptable conduct, where it applies and the consequences of any breach.

Ben Thompson, CEO, The EI Group said, “This time of year is called the silly season for a reason. It’s that time of year when employees let their hair down and celebrate the fact that they have come to the end of another year. It’s a typical scenario: Christmas party, a few drinks and then someone does or says something that offends another which results in serious and ongoing negative consequences for your staff and your business beyond that one night.

“Add to this the potential dollar cost of claims against the business for the drunken actions of a staff member, which could be anywhere upwards of AU$10,000.”

Whilst not all staff Christmas parties are destined for disaster there are some practical things that employers should institute prior and during the event to keep the frivolities above board. While it is a celebration for managers as much as it is for the rest of the team, it is worthwhile reminding managers to act in a professional capacity during the evening and help to supervise the event. If anyone becomes too inebriated or acts inappropriately they should be removed and sent home in a cab. Ensure the evening is fun and inclusive by considering things like appropriate catering and entertainment which emphasizes fun and celebration, not drinking and disorderly behaviour.

Thompson adds, “Most workplaces are going to want to celebrate the year with a few drinks. If you are concerned about big drunken nights out, then perhaps hold a lunchtime party for work colleagues and make it a family affair by inviting partners and kids along – people are less likely to drink to excess and get rowdy around children.”

[Source: Recruitment Extra: December 2011 – January 2012 Edition]