Tis the season… to host a fun and safe end-of-year party
Next up in our series exploring the top legal issues the fashion and beauty sectors need to consider in the lead up to the holiday season, we discuss what employers should be aware of when hosting end-of year functions for their employees.
It's officially the festive season with only a couple of weeks left of the working year. It’s great to get employees together at end-of-year parties and other social events to celebrate. However, the combination of a celebratory atmosphere and alcohol means that festive season activities frequently bring with them a spike in claims around workplace health and safety, and sexual harassment, bullying and other types of inappropriate behaviour.
Employers are required to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment and ensure – as far as reasonably practicable – the health, safety and welfare of their employees. If employers fail to take such reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment, they risk being vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.
Here are a few things that should be factored into your party planning to ensure everyone has a great (and safe) time.
Do your due diligence on the venue
While there may be some local favourites for you to attend on the weekend, not all venues are suitable for a work end-of-year party. An accessible venue with good access to transport and plenty of food and non-alcoholic drink options is a must. You should make enquiries of the venue about what food options are available, especially more substantial food as the night goes on and the provision of a range of food options, including vegetarian and gluten-free so that all staff are catered for.
It is also recommended that you think about entertainment and activities for the night that won’t involve drinking. This might be as simple as organising a dance floor for people to have a dance.
Educate your employees
Employees should be required to comply with company policies and procedures like the Code of Conduct, Drug and Alcohol Policy and Anti-bullying and Harassment policy. It is important to remind your employees about your employment policies and the expected level of behaviour, including when at work functions.
Any communication with employees should be clear about the start and end time of your event and that any activity after the nominated end time will not be employer-endorsed. The lead up to end-of-year events is also an excellent time to organise refresher training on workplace behaviour policies and procedures.
Nominate a manager(s) to supervise
Nominate a manager or employees from the management team to supervise the party and who are capable of dealing with any issues that may arise at the event. These supervisors should be prepared to take action, such as ceasing alcohol service or safely sending people home if it looks like negative behaviour might escalate.
Leaving the party
When planning your end-of-year function, consideration should be given to employee travel requirements, including ending the function before public transport stops running, having a venue that is close to public transport, encouraging carpooling, providing cab charge vouchers, ensuring the phone numbers for local cab companies are available and encouraging employees to use them. It will be up to the employee to take you up on the offer or otherwise arrange their own transportation.
Standards of conduct for other events
Your festive season considerations should also include where your employees attend other organisations’ functions as part of their work, such as attending celebrations organised by clients, suppliers, or other parties. The risk and liability issues present at internal functions extend to these events. Given this, employee education about required standards of conduct should include reference to all work-related events, whether internal or external.
Respect at work reforms
It is also important to remember that there have been a number of legal reforms in the last year to ensure that employees are not at risk of sexual harassment in the workplace, including when at work functions.
The Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022, recently passed by the Federal Parliament, will introduce a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate workplace sexual harassment, victimisation and sex discrimination as far as possible.
If something does go wrong
Employees should understand how to raise any issues, concerns or complaints arising from end-of-year parties. Not every incident will require a disciplinary procedure, but any issues, concerns or complaints that arise must be dealt with in a timely, fair and appropriate manner. This may necessitate an investigation of a complaint. If an investigation is undertaken, it is recommended that:
- a thorough investigation into the incident is undertaken, including by interviewing all relevant parties and witnesses;
- all parties involved in the incident are afforded fair treatment.
Everyone works hard throughout the year; the festive season is a time to come together and celebrate that hard work. It should be possible for all employees to have a safe and enjoyable time at a work function. This can be achieved by ensuring that you have done your due diligence and that you have effectively communicated your expectations with your employees.
We hope you have a wonderful time at the end-of-year party for your workplace! If you would like assistance with managing the employment considerations of end-of-year events, please contact our Employment team.
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