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Reducing the Risk at Christmas: Considerations when planning the work Christmas party

Most employees have a story about a time when they’ve had too much to drink, gotten a little too confident in front of the boss or made an embarrassing choice at the work Christmas party. And most employers have a story about taking off early or turning a blind-eye to staff behaviour on these occasions, thinking ‘what I don’t know can’t hurt me’. But just because employees are officially ‘off the clock’, doesn’t necessarily mean that employers are no longer responsible for their health and safety. And unfortunately, ‘just a little bit of fun at the work Christmas party’ too often results in harassment, accidents, bullying or other claims, as well as accidents and injury. In other words… ‘what I don’t know, can hurt me’.

So if you’re planning a staff Christmas party or other function, here are a few risk-reducing considerations to take prior to the event.

Review your Policies and Procedures
There’s no better time than the silly-season to make sure your Policies and Procedures adequately protect you and your employees from risk; this includes Drug and Alcohol, Work-related Social Events, Social Media and other Policies. Policies should be clear and detailed, and include a Procedure outlining the steps to be followed to reinforce the Policy.

Not sure if your Drug and Alcohol Policy stacks up? Get a FREE review to determine if you’re at risk.

Communicate, communicate, and communicate
Issue a friendly memo to employees in advance of the event to remind them about appropriate conduct, company Policies and Procedures, alcohol use and behaviours which could result in harassment or other claims. Not only does communication reinforce values, standards and procedures, but encourages staff that you take safety seriously.

Be selective when picking a venue
Although Christmas parties should be fun, and whilst chartering a boat, paint-balling, visiting a water park or other adrenaline-charged activity sounds exciting, it’s best to pick a venue or setting with minimal risk of accident or injury. Especially if alcohol will be invited to! Perhaps bare-foot bowling or a beach picnic could be fun?

Less alcohol means less risk
Seems obvious? Alcohol contributes to 11% of workplace accidents and injury – this should be a consideration when choosing what type of event you’ll be hosting and the venue.

Consider transportation options
Employer duty of care stretches beyond the function itself – while it’s not legally mandatory to provide transportation options, getting people home safely is still important. Consider providing Cab Charge Vouchers or renting a private bus if reasonable. At the very least, pick a venue close to various transport options.

Okay, okay… can you hear the sirens wailing in the background? Think the ‘Fun Police’ are out to get you? Not the case. We know that a staff Christmas party is a great way to bring in the new year, thank staff for their contribution and form bonds and strengthen relationships which will benefit everyone in the workplace. We’re simply pointing out that there are risks involved and to remain vigilant even as your mind starts to wind down into holiday mode.

Already planned something different and exciting? Great! At the very least, here are some pointers of things you can do during the event to stay safe and reduce your risk.

Responsible Service of Alcohol – in preparation for those one or two who may take it too far, whether BYOing or in a licenced venue, ensure alcohol is being served responsibly and be prepared to take action if anyone appears inebriated or acts inappropriately.

Hydration – ensure there are plenty of non-alcohol drinks available, especially if the event is outdoors or encompasses some form of physical activity.

Provide food options – not only because people get hangry, but especially if alcohol is involved, various food choices should be available, taking any dietary requirements into consideration.

Be mindful – you’re still the boss. The best way to prevent sticky situations is to diffuse them from happening. Make sure there is a manager, who should not drink, that responsible for keeping an eye on mood and behaviour and is prepared to take action if required.

At the end of the day, or the year in this case, Christmas parties and functions are important for many employees to feel valued, supported and have some fun with their friends and colleagues. So as long as you set an example, outline acceptable behaviour as your number one priority, and have detailed Policies and Procedures in place, there’s no reason the Christmas party shouldn’t be a huge hit!

Related reading:
Reinstated after Unfair Dismissal: what you could be at risk of this silly-season
The biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol policies
Unfairly dismissed for drunkenness at work


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