It’s that time of year again and the office end of year party is just around the corner.
These types of functions are a great way for everyone to let their hair down, have a laugh, and dance the night away. However, there are still precautions that employers and employees should take to ensure that the only notable things for the post party chats are Charlie in the mail room’s Karaoke efforts and Carol in HR’s dance moves when the Grease Mega-Mix came on.
Work function is still work – regardless of the venue
Courts have long held that there is a sufficient connection between the workplace and work functions, and therefore a work function is still ‘work’. As such, employee behaviour at a work function can attract disciplinary action, including termination of employment.
Employers’ statutory duties also extend to the office end of year party. Amongst other things, employers must:
- take reasonable steps to ensure that their employees and officers do not engage in discrimination and prohibited conduct (Section 104 of Anti-Discrimination Act 1998); and
- minimise risks to employees health and safety (Section 19 of Work Health and Safety Act 2012).
Positive duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
With the changes made by the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 now in effect, employers have a positive duty take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace. The Australian Human Rights Commission will have the power to enforce compliance commencing 12 December 2023. So there is still time to start developing and implementing appropriate policies and practices in the workplace.
1 – Ensure your discrimination, sexual harassment, workplace bullying and WHS policies are up to date.
2 – Ensure employees undergo training in discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace bullying. This should be carried out as part of the induction process and followed up with refreshers at least every year.
3 – Make sure alcohol is served responsibly. An inebriated employee can be a risk to other patrons and themselves. There are also circumstances where employers may be found to be vicariously liable for the damage caused by an inebriated employee.
4 – Offer transport options home such as providing cab charge vouchers and offering to reimburse Uber and bus fares.
5 – A few days prior to the event, remind staff of the standards of behaviour they are expected to meet and that there can be consequences for falling short. Emphasise that even though the event is taking place outside of workhours and the normal workplace, the usual workplace expectations still apply.
Keeping the above in mind goes a long way in ensuring that everyone has a fun and safe time, whilst also minimising the risks of claims.
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Published: 1 December 2023