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The risks involved with end-of-year celebrations (and how to reduce them)

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

As we gear up for the end of the year, work leaves the mind, and celebrations become a priority. For employers, rewarding staff’s year of hard work is essential. However, care must be taken to ensure things don’t get out of hand.

Risk is a major consideration in any event where alcohol is involved. Workplace expert and risk consultant Jules Paolino noted that individuals and businesses alike can fall victim to hazards, and proper protections should be put in place.

“End-of-year celebrations pose two primary types of risk: misconduct and physical injury. The risk of misconduct arises from overindulgence and intoxication during, potentially heightening the business’s exposure,” explained Mr Paolino.

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“This heightened exposure could lead to allegations of inappropriate behaviour or individuals causing harm to themselves and others. It is important to note that any injury or allegation arising from a work event is deemed to occur ‘throughout the course of employment’, meaning the business could be liable.”

Employers must be aware of the potential risks and ensure policies are in place to help mitigate any issues arising.

Mr Paolino continued: “The key consideration when establishing expectations is clear communication. Ensure timely and consistent communication with the workforce, setting clear standards for acceptable conduct. The professionalism of employees reflects the company’s brand, and explicit communication aids in defining appropriate behaviour.”

“Additionally, it’s crucial to remind leaders beforehand that the offsite venue is an extension of the workplace. Leaders must take responsibility for the behaviour of their direct reports and addressing any disrespectful or hazardous conduct in line with company policies. Employers should also designate staff ‘supervisors’ to monitor behaviour during the event, particularly if alcohol is being served. This proactive step helps identify and address potential issues before they escalate,” he commented.

“Implementing a ‘get home safe’ plan is another risk reduction strategy. This may involve offering Uber discounts or arranging for a minibus for the event, addressing the risks associated with journeys to and from the event. Certain legislation extends the business’s liability to such situations.”

The consequences of getting this wrong can be severe. Not only can employees end up hurt or in trouble, but the business can also face ramifications that can be damaging.

Some of the consequences, as listed by Mr Paolino, are:

  1. If a staff member is injured during a work-related event, they may pursue workers’ compensation claims for medical expenses or loss of income. The duty of care extends to ensuring a safe environment during such events, even if they occur outside regular working hours or offsite.
  2. Incidents, whether they involve misconduct or physical injury, increase the business’s exposure. This heightened exposure may lead to liability, affecting its reputation and potentially resulting in legal consequences.
  3. Poor supervision or inadequate planning leading to workplace injuries can spoil the celebrations. This negative impact may affect employee morale and participation in subsequent company-sponsored events.

“The consequences of incidents during end-of-year celebrations can range from financial and legal liabilities to damage to the company’s reputation and a negative impact on future events. Employers are encouraged to take proactive measures to communicate expectations, enforce accountability, and ensure a safe environment to mitigate these risks,” Mr Paolino said.

“It’s crucial to keep in mind that the workers’ compensation system operates on a no-fault basis. This means that regardless of the incident, the employer remains liable for providing compensation. So, what’s the solution? Simple, ensure you have plenty of supervision at your event.”

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