'Tis the season to be jolly careful at the work Christmas party

Thursday 17 November, 2016

The work Christmas party season is in full swing.

If your organisation has already had its Christmas party, hopefully everything went well and from a workplace law standpoint there were no issues that arose.

If your business is yet to have its annual gathering, hopefully all the boxes have been ticked to avoid potential risks. Some of these include;

  • All reasonable steps have been taken to prevent unacceptable behaviours from occurring at the work Christmas party
  • Managers are aware of their responsibility to monitor and supervise at the function
  • Employees have been reminded of applicable policies and behavioural standards (eg. sexual harassment, bullying and OHS)
  • Light alcohol and no alcohol options are available.

christmas drinks

Here is an insight of cases that have gone before the Commission of what can go wrong at a Christmas party;

  1. Mr McCaskill, an employee of the NSW Attorney General and Justice Department, was dismissed for events occurring at the Department’s 2012 Christmas Party. Mr McCaskill consumed 14-15 standard drinks, on an empty stomach, within a 2.5 hour period at the Christmas party. He then proceeded to inappropriately touch five female Departmental employees at the party. He also informed another employee that she was not successful in applying for a different position within the Department (information that was confidential at the time).

After a 12 month investigation, the Department dismissed Mr McCaskill for his behaviour. Mr McCaskill, perhaps unsurprisingly, challenged the fairness of the dismissal under the Industrial Relations Act 1996 (NSW). The Commission accepted that Mr McCaskill was acting in good humour and did not mean to sexually harass his work colleagues. The Commission nonetheless regarded Mr McCaskill’s conduct as deplorable.

Public Service Association and Professional Officers' Association amalgamated Union of New South Wales (on behalf of Mr McCaskill) and Department of Attorney General and Justice [2014] NSWIRComm 1009

  1. Commercial Waterproof Servicing Pty Ltd (CWS) held its 2006 party on a small cruiser operated by Tall Ships Sailing Cruises Australia Pty Ltd (TSSCA), which included a return trip from Mariner's Cove on the Gold Coast to McLaren's Landing on South Stradbroke Island. The CWS group comprised of approximately 90 people which included family and friends of the employees.

CWS shared the boat with Marine Malouf, which had 20 in its group, all adults. There were also 10 crew members from TSSCA on the trip.

Alcohol was served on the cruiser and at McLaren's Landing, and at the start of the return trip some of the Marine Malouf party had become rowdy and were swearing within earshot of the CWS employees children.

One of the CWS employees asked the Marine Malouf party ‘to tone it down’, and on the second occasion was hit from behind by an unidentified member of the Marine Malouf group.

His injuries required hospitalisation and the insertion of two plates and nine screws to reconstruct his facial bones. The employee sued TSSCA and CWS, alleging both had breached their duty of care to him.

Packer v Tall Ships Sailing Cruises Aust P/L & Anor [2014] QSC 212 (29 August 2014)

  1. Probably the biggest workplace incident to come out of a Christmas party is the 2007 "party to end all parties" involving employees of a Sydney Telstra retail store. What started out as a work dinner function later that evening went awry at a nearby motel with a store employee having s*xual intercourse with another employee within the view and/or earshot of the three other employees. The employee responsible was ultimately dismissed but in order for Telstra to successfully defend its actions, the ensuing litigation went as far as the Full Bench of the then Australian Industrial Relations Commission - Telstra v Streeter (24 February 2008)  http://www.airc.gov.au/alldocuments/PR978080.htm

Leading up to the end of year celebration, remind staff that it’s a work event and that responsible and respectful behaviour (in line with the appropriate policies and procedures) is required by all attendees, including partners.

Ensure staff are reminded and aware of the relevant workplace policies (workplace health and safety, anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and social media), and that they continue to apply for the duration of the event.

Consequently, ensure that staff are reminded that their failure to follow the relevant policies and procedures, or any reasonable and lawful direction, during the event may be used as a basis for disciplinary action, which may include termination.

Explicitly advise staff of when the party starts and finishes and that any extra celebrations after the designated finishing time is at their own initiative and is not endorsed by the employer.

Ensure that the function venue has been appropriately assessed for any risk and/or safety issues. This also includes ensuring that the guests are adequately fed to assist with the effects of alcohol (if alcohol is being served).

If alcohol is being served at the event, consider organising travel arrangements, such as taxi, bus or other public transport, or provide other viable options for employees to get home safely.

Monitor the alcohol intake of employees. This can be done by designating a “responsible manager or person” to monitor the party, setting a fixed bar tab for the night and making sure food is available.

Ensure that those serving alcohol adhere to the Responsible Service of Alcohol obligations.

If your workplace partakes in the giving of Secret Santa or Kris Kringle presents, remind staff that the gifts should not be offensive and be appropriate in nature.

Members are reminded that they can discuss how to manage employment matters or organisation policies and procedure by contacting the employer assistance team on 1300 731 988 or advice@CCIQ.com.au.

On that note CCIQ wishes you, your families and staff a safe and happy holiday period. 

Need to train your staff? CCIQ Training has your training needs covered. Contact us on 1300 731 988


DISCLAIMER: This document is an information source only. Despite our best efforts, CCIQ makes no statements, representations or warranties about the accuracy or completeness of the information and disclaims responsibility for all liability for all loss or damage you might incur as a result of the information being inaccurate or incomplete in any way, and for any reason. The information contained in this document is not intended to be nor should it be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other professional advice.





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