How to avoid a Christmas party liability hangover

Published on Tue, 29/11/2011, 01:28:36

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Press release by EI Group

Too much Christmas cheer could potentially leave employers with a big liability hangover. The EI Group offers employers tips on ensuring employees have fun at Christmas parties while informing them what is appropriate behaviour, and what is inappropriate.

With the festive season approaching, both employers and employees wind down to celebrate the end of the current year and the beginning of the new year.  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.

When organising staff Christmas parties whether on or off-site from the workplace, within work hours or out of work hours, employers need to keep in mind that they have a legal responsibility to protect employees against sexual harassment and discrimination.

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 the year is called the silly season for a reason.  It’s that time of year when employees let out 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 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.”
 
 The EI Group offers employers the following five tips for a successful Christmas party.
 
1. The night should be premised as a celebration of team efforts for the year.  Before your Christmas party, make sure all your staff are informed of the appropriate standard of behaviour expected of them.  It is worthwhile reiterating your discrimination and harassment policy to all staff in the weeks leading up to your Christmas party and making it an item at all staff meetings.  

Ben Thompson added, “Most workplaces are going to want to celebrate the year with a few drinks. While this is certainly pleasant, managers should be responsible and remove anyone from the event that is too inebriated or acting inappropriately. 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.”

2. Ensure there are good transport options to get everyone home safely.  If you’ve removed anyone from the party for being too drunk, make sure you call them a cab and make sure they get into it and are capable of giving their address to the driver.

3. Ensure managers are acting responsibly. While it is a celebration for your managers as much as it is for the rest of your team, it is worthwhile reminding your managers to act in a professional capacity during the evening and help to supervise the event. Managers and supervisors also need to be trained so that they know their obligations and responsibilities and can prepare themselves to deal with any issues which may arise.  

4. Place emphasis on the responsible intake of alcohol. Ensure the evening is fun and inclusive by considering things like appropriate catering and entertainment which emphasises fun and celebration, not drunk and disorderly.  

5. Consider the dietary requirements of everyone. You should ensure that your catering is appropriate for a multicultural team and making available vegetarian, vegan and celiac options.
Ben Thompson added, “Surprisingly, some small business employers are not educated in what constitutes sexual harassment, whether it be physical, verbal, written or visually offensive.”
 
Harrassment includes if someone performs the following activities:
-        subjects someone to unwanted physical contact or gestures
-        asks intrusive questions, or subjects someone to insinuations about their private life
-        makes jokes or insinuations of a sexual nature
-        subjects someone to sex-based insults or taunts
-        inappropriately or repeatedly asks someone to go out with him or her
-        explicitly or implicitly demands to engage in sexual activity with someone
-        sends offensive communication of a sexual nature by means of a note, letter, telephone, computer, or by electronic mail or any other means
-        if a person feels offended, humiliated or uncomfortable as a result, sexual harassment has occurred.

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