By Courtney West

Is your business planning a staff Christmas party this year? If so, I’ve put together a list of the dos and don’ts you need to know when it comes to planning and executing staff shindigs!

Although these events are a great way for employees to take part in the festivities, they’re still formal work functions that require the employer to exercise a duty of care to manage any associated health and safety risks that may arise.

Don’t worry, we’re not playing the part of the Christmas Grinch! Here at HR Assured, we see work parties as a great way to show employees that they’re valued and to acknowledge their ongoing contributions. Let’s make a start so you can have a safe and fun event this year.

1. Know the risks and mitigate them

Having effective HR policies and procedures is the first step to managing your employees’ behaviour during work functions. Well-written policies and procedures set the ground rules and spell out the company’s expectations on appropriate behaviour, and if there happens to be an incident, your company will be protected – but there is a catch. While it’s all good and well that companies have policies and procedures, they’re pointless if all they do is collect dust. It’s crucial that HR personnel ensure each employee has read and acknowledged the policies – this might sound like an overwhelming task especially during the silly season, but not when you have the right solution in place. This should be done on a regular basis, especially before a work function such as a Christmas party. If this does not occur, then an employee may reasonably argue they weren’t aware of the expectations of them.

From our HR software, HRA Cloud, clients can digitally disseminate documents to all your employees in the click of a button. Employees can then read and acknowledge the document via the Employee Self-Service portal which is then recorded in each employee’s file and saved securely in the cloud.

2. Plan ahead of time

It’s recommended that employers encourage their employees to plan their travel arrangements ahead of time; this is particularly important if alcohol is being served at the Christmas party. This recommendation has been made because your business may be liable for any incident that occurs either before or after the party where there’s a sufficient connection to an employee’s ‘work’. It may be even appropriate to consider providing free transportation for employees to and from the event.

Organising fun activities at a party are a great way to bring your people together and encourage team building and bonding, but employers should be wary of planning activities that could increase health and safety risks. These factors must be considered with the utmost importance especially if alcohol is being served, and the impact this may have on an individual’s capacity to safely participate in activities.

3. Manage misconduct fairly and appropriately

Although Christmas parties are a great way for both employers and employees to get involved in the festivities, the case of Keenan v Leighton [2015] FWC 3156 highlights the importance of ensuring that if any misconduct does occur, the response is in line with an employer’s obligations of procedural fairness. In this matter, an employee made remarks to a female colleague at a Christmas party which the Fair Work Commission found to be “of an aggressive, intimidatory and bullying nature”. However, despite this meaning there was a valid reason for his dismissal, his termination was nonetheless was found to be ‘unjust’(one of the criteria to find a dismissal unfair) because he wasn’t given sufficient procedural fairness and was treated differently to an employee who had engaged in similar conduct.

To help ensure your event runs smoothly and your company’s policies and procedures are correctly adhered to consider nominating additional supervisors. It’s only natural that tempers may run high at the end of the year, particularly where alcohol is involved, but this doesn’t absolve businesses of their obligations to respond to allegations or complaints in line with their policies, conduct fair investigations (where an investigation is appropriate), and implement any disciplinary action in a procedurally fair manner.

4. COVID-19 is still here so play it safe

When planning your next event or Christmas party, you should always keep in mind relevant COVID-19 rules and how they apply. To ensure that the only thing your workplace shares this year is the holiday cheer, businesses are encouraged to implement social distancing measures and to consider how food and drinks can be safely served.

Key tips

It’s vitally important that employers plan ahead, observe their duty of care, apply procedural fairness, and keep the party COVID-safe. Implementing these safeguards will ensure that your next event is memorable for all the right reasons.

If you need help with navigating your end of year events this holiday season, you can always speak with our expert employment relations and WHS advisors via our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.

Not an HR Assured client and have questions about this or another workplace matter? Reach out to our team of experts here.

Courtney West is a Workplace Relations Advisor and assists a variety of clients via the Telephone Advisory Service. She is currently studying for a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts.