The Hazards of Christmas Parties and What to Do About Them
By Clayton Payne
The “silly season” is just about to get into full swing. It’s a good time for most, but what if things go wrong?
More than ever, employers and HR professionals need to be mindful of the potential risks.
When matters take a turn for the worse, employers in particular can be exposed to all manner of claims, such as sexual harassment complaints, bullying complaints, and workers’ compensation claims. Such claims can not only effect employee morale and the employer’s reputation, but they are also time consuming and costly.
That said, the prospect of such claims arising should not put a dampener on festivities.
What are the strategies that can be employed to mitigate the prospect of the claims arising?
Before having your Christmas party, you might consider the following:
- Have well drafted policies in place dealing with matters such as appropriate workplace behaviour and the use of social media. You might consider having these drafted by a lawyer who specialises in this area of practice, noting that such policies will likely come under the scrutiny of a court or tribunal if there is a claim.
- Even with policies in place, unless staff are made aware of them, and understand what will and will not be tolerated, and the consequence if there is a breach, they will amount to nothing. Education is important not only in preventing claims from arising in the first place, but from an employer’s perspective, in some instances it can be crucial in an argument that the employer is not vicariously liable for the conduct of its employee. Ensure that records of education delivery are kept.
- If alcohol is being served at a work function, ensure that it is done moderately, that there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks on offer, and that there are one or two senior people in attendance who can trouble shoot to prevent a problem. Also ensure that the function has a definite cut off time and employees are made aware of when that is.
- Ensure that staff can easily and safely travel home from the function. If a staff member is injured on their way home, it may, at the very least, give rise to a workers’ compensation claim against the employer.
- Advise staff that the posting of photos and the like on social media websites during the function is banned. An awkward photograph could give rise to not only reputational damage to an employer, but could potentially lead to bullying and sexual harassment claims.
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