Duty of Care and the Christmas Party

It is time for the Christmas party.

Most employers will be putting on some type of end of year celebration for their employees. This is a great way to acknowledge the effort the team has made and to say thanks.

Along with some food, maybe some entertainment there will usually be some drinks. So, what is your responsibility towards your employees?

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, section 21. Employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees of the employer a working environment that is safe and without risk to health.

So what, this is a social function out of the work environment and out of office hours? and if they get drunk and do something stupid it is not your problem. Right?

Well, yes it is. A function whether on the worksite or after hours is still a work function and you as the employer are responsible for taking adequate steps - as reasonably practicable to ensure the safety of your employees, which can include on their way home. You need to minimise the risk of injury or incident because you have a duty of care and you are responsible.

How do you do that?

  1. Send out a note prior to the event outlining the issues excessive drinking can cause and that employees are expected to behave appropriately. You can cover suggesting they make arrangements to get home, mixing up their consumption with alternative glasses of water, reminding them to eat something substantial before the event. You can also mention that any form of harassment will not be tolerated. This could be part of the invitation
  2. Make sure that food is available and there is more than enough for all expected guests
  3. Limit the amount or options of alcohol to be served. Include a time limit on when alcohol will be served. Make sure other non alcoholic options are available
  4. Have a reasonable duration time for the function. You can consider starting early to eliminate the options of employees having drinks before they arrive
  5. Make sure the venue is accessible to public transport or taxi options
  6. Empower the venue to advise you if they believe someone has drunk excessively or is behaving inappropriately
  7. Ensure that someone representing the business has authority to make decisions and is not drinking excessively
  8. Owners and managers should be reminded to set an example in their behavior
  9. If anything does happen make sure you treat this the same as if it happened in any other work situation. Make sure the action or allegation is treated seriously

What if you don’t take this seriously?

In a nutshell, you may have to deal with workers compensation claims, investigations into breaches of your responsibility under OH&S or allegations of harassment.

Best Practice

You don’t have to be the fun police, but you do need to fulfill your duty of care obligations. Make sure your invitations are well written. Put a Drug and Alcohol policy in place to outline what is expected at all times in any work environment. This should cover what the consequences are and how allegations or inappropriate actions will be treated through a disciplinary procedure.

Does your business have formal policies in place? Are you confident your employees know what is expected under workplace bullying and harassment? If not, why not contact The Outside Lane for a workplace audit to check your compliance with current legislation?

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