Planning a Christmas party or a festive catch-up? Here’s how to ensure no one in your business is left nursing any kind of unwanted New Year hangover.
The CEO of the Real Estate Employers’ Federation (REEF), Bryan Wilcox, acknowledges “there’s no doubt that some of the most anticipated events on your company’s calendar occur in December”. But he warns employers and employees to be mindful that end-of-year celebrations also come with some potential legal risks.
“Christmas and end-of-year parties are generally an extension of the workplace, and as such, employers bear a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health and safety of their employees and prevent any unlawful or inappropriate behaviour at these events. Employees have similar obligations to each other,” he outlined.
And while he highlights how festive events can be great for team building, he concedes that “when staff start letting their hair down in the spirit of the season, anything can happen – and, unfortunately, often does”.
Mr Wilcox said that when situations take an unfavourable turn, employers and sometimes employees, “can find themselves vulnerable to a variety of claims”.
“These can include complaints of sexual harassment and even assault, instances of bullying, discrimination, and even workers’ compensation claims,” he listed, flagging that such claims can be damaging to an employer’s reputation and put a dampener on employee morale, while also being time-consuming and costly.
He stressed that under both work health and safety laws and the recently updated sex discrimination legislation, “there is a positive and ‘proactive’ duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate workplace risks”.
Pointing out that “simply waiting for a problem to occur and then dealing with it afterwards may breach an employer’s legal obligations because it could be considered ‘reactive’,” Mr Wilcox flagged that when “discrimination, harassment or bullying does occur during a work function, an employer is at risk of being held vicariously liable for such conduct unless they can demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to reduce, mitigate and manage the improper behaviour”.
But – it’s not to say that celebrations should be ruled out, with Mr Wilcox outlining that “proactively managing potential risks, setting clear expectations and promoting responsible behaviour, employers can still enjoy the festivities while keeping employment risks at bay and remaining compliant with your legal obligations while doing so”.
So, how can employers carry out their duties and obligations through the silly season?
According to the CEO, preparation is key.
Mr Wilcox said that when gearing up for end-of-year functions and events, employers should consider several measures to mitigate potential risks, such as:
1. Have appropriate policies in place
The CEO advises employers to ensure that the appropriate workplace behaviour policies are in place and that they are circulated and reinforced before any Christmas celebration event.
This will allow employees to be familiar with their obligations and ensure they won’t overstep boundaries.
Mr Wilcox noted that “the employer and employees have a legal obligation not to engage in and to prevent inappropriate conduct, and to always maintain acceptable and respectful workplace behaviour”.
As well as reminding team members “that work functions are for everyone’s enjoyment”, he said employees must know “they need to exercise a degree of responsibility that’s consistent with the high standard of behaviour upon which your agency prides itself”.
From Mr Wilcox’s point of view, “when sending out invitations to the Christmas party, it is a good idea to follow the invite with an email detailing the company’s relevant policies”.
These policies may include a staff functions policy; a discrimination, harassment and bullying policy; and a drug and alcohol policy.
2. Moderate alcohol
Mr Wilcox has advised that “when alcohol is being served during a work event, it’s essential to maintain moderation”.
Ample food should always accompany beverage services – and so too should non-alcoholic beverages.
The CEO also recommends establishing a clear end time for the event, noting that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a host of employment issues.
3. Keep themes appropriate
Where a party or celebration is themed, employers are encouraged to ensure “that it is appropriate and does not carry the risk of being offensive”.
“Employers should clearly communicate the expected dress code before the event, potentially offering examples of acceptable and unacceptable attire,” the CEO stressed.
4. Stay safe on social media
Mr Wilcox instructs employers to “inform employees that when it comes to sharing photos and related content on social media platforms during or after the event, they should exercise caution”.
“Remember, once something is posted, it is there forever.”
5. Have a plan for the party’s end
The CEO also noted that “an employer’s responsibility for their employees does not conclude once the party is over”.
He instructs employers to make sure that employees have a convenient and secure means of transportation for their journey back home from the event.
In conclusion, Mr Wilcox said end-of-year events should be a time for celebration.
“Prevention is always better than a cure – so be sure to prepare for the ‘silly season’ ahead.”
This article was originally featured in Real Estate Business.