Although work Christmas parties should be fun, unfortunately (for employers and us HR professionals) they are also an HR minefield. In particular, work Christmas parties can lead to an increased risk of:
- Employees being injured
- Sexual harassment and bullying
- Inappropriate behaviour
Which is why it’s really important that you undertake some steps to limit the likelihood of the above occurring! So, here’s what you can do to make your work Christmas party run as smoothly as possible:
Put Someone in Charge
The most simple and effective strategy for avoiding Christmas party HR disasters is to put someone in charge – i.e. make someone accountable for monitoring the party and diffusing any unacceptable behaviour. This responsibility should be assigned to a senior manager who is happy to avoid consuming alcohol on the night (or at least limiting their alcohol consumption). Remember – even with someone in charge, all employers share some degree of responsibility for what unfolds.
Establish the Party Guidelines
It’s really important that you remember that your Christmas party is happening ‘in the course of employment’, which means that all of your employer/employee related legal obligations and workplace policies still apply. Therefore, you need to remind your employees that, although the Christmas party is an opportunity for them to deservingly let their hair down, there is some conduct that will not be tolerated.
A great way to make sure that all of your employees are aware of how to behave on the night is to send out an email that reminds your employees of the acceptable code of conduct. In this email, remind your staff that:
- The Christmas party is a work function, and therefore their behaviour must comply with workplace policies. In particular, make sure to remind staff of your policies regarding drug and alcohol consumption; sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying and social media use.
- They need to make any necessary travel arrangements to make sure that they get home safely at the end of the event (you should also remind them of the legal driving limits). If you are holding your work Christmas function significantly far from your workplace or public transport, you could consider arranging a courtesy coach or cab vouchers for your staff.
If you want to limit the likelihood of HR disasters, you need to manage the flow of your alcohol! We recommend that you consider serving only wine and beer (spirits can be risky), provide non-alcoholic drink options, serve sufficient food and cut off the alcoholic drinks at an acceptable time. You also need to keep your eye out for staff members who are becoming unacceptably intoxicated (and be prepared to give them water, food and a cab ride home). According to the Fair Work Commission’s vice president, “it is contradictory and self-defeating for an employer to require compliance with its usual standards of behaviour at a function but at the same time allow the unlimited service of free alcohol.”
Select an Appropriate Venue and Time Frame
Make sure that your party venue is safe, work-appropriate and easy to access for your staff. If you are using a public space, make sure that you reserve a dedicated area that will remain under your control until the designated party finish time. Which brings us to another important point… you need to make sure that everyone knows when the Christmas party officially ends. Once the party ends, the event is no longer regarded as being employer-sponsored and the employers are no longer responsible for the actions and safety of staff members.
Take Party Complaints Seriously
If, despite your best efforts, an incident or complaint arises from your work Christmas party, you need to make sure that you address and resolve it as soon as possible. When a complaint is made, it is important that a thorough investigation is undertaken in accordance with your regular disciplinary procedures.
Need HR Assistance?
At CarterLambert, we pride ourselves on being a leading provider of integrated ‘people solutions’ to a range of businesses throughout Australia. Whatever your HR needs, we can help. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to know more about our wide range of HR services (or more about avoiding HR risks at your work Christmas party!).