4 Things You Can Do To Throw a Safe Christmas Function
It’s nearing the end of the year and your staff are looking forward to the annual Christmas party. But employers should be aware that Christmas cheer can sometimes turn into a New Year’s nightmare. Here, we look at four things employers and managers can do to make their office Christmas function fun, festive and free of liability suits.
1. Be clear about when your responsibility begins and ends
Whether your organisation is on the line for injury or damage caused at the year-end Christmas party will depend on whether the court regards it as occurring as part of regular employment. Case law has established that the official Christmas function, thrown by an organisation and usually catered for, is part of regular employment. What is less clear is whether or not celebrating prior to the event’s start or any after-party is also part of the employer’s responsibility. The trick here is to be very clear on any official invitations and communications around the event as to start and end times, so that any extra partying is entirely a private function.
2. Provide transport if the function runs late
An evening function should be timed to end early enough that there are ample public transport options, or you should consider providing transport home. Apart from the moral imperative to keep drinking drivers off the road, if that employee has an accident you are potentially liable for any damage caused if you reasonably ought to have known that he or she shouldn’t be driving. Take the person aside and arrange for a cab to be called, or drive them home yourself.
3. Put Secret Santa guidelines in place
Secret Santa arrangements, where employees each buy a gift for one other person in the organisation, are a standard part of Australian Christmas office parties. Popular though they are, the Secret Santa can be a minefield for employers looking to avoid problems. Firstly, make sure the suggested budget is fairly modest, especially if you work in an office where some people are likely to be on low salaries. Secondly, since Secret Santa presents are usually opened as a group in front of co-workers, guidelines should be disseminated making it clear that gifts should be inoffensive and good spirited. Presents with sexual connotations or which reference a person’s appearance, religion or other personal matters should be discouraged.
4. Train managers on how to handle incidents
Any Christmas function should have delegated people in charge, and those people are usually managers. Make sure that managers are suitably trained in handling any incidents that do come up at Christmas functions and know what to do if, for example, an employee is insisting on driving himself home after drinking a lot of alcohol.
Perhaps one of your employees is acting inappropriately towards another. Don’t risk a confrontation that escalates the matter, but do try and intervene subtly, ensure that the target of the behaviour feels safe and supported, and de-escalate. Once you’ve headed off the risk, you can safely leave it to the New Year to address the behaviour in a more official manner.
Training should ensure that all managers or supervisors at the function know how to respond to common scenarios so that reactions are consistent and appropriate throughout the organisation.
What do you think?
Does your company have guidelines in place to avoid possible mishaps such as the ones mentioned above? We’d love to hear how your HR department ensure Christmas parties and celebrations remain safe and comfortable for everyone.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Mondaq; ABC; The Sydney Morning Herald; The Sydney Morning Herald; CCIQ; The HR Director; IHR Australia