Christmas is around the corner and the related functions, after-work drinks and parties are not far off. Unfortunately, these events often cause headaches for employers where employees get a little too 'merry' and act inappropriately.

We have all heard the stories about employees acting inappropriately and employers being left to deal with the fallout. Significantly, as employers are generally responsible for the health and safety of their employees at work events, employers have been found to be liable for inappropriate conduct of employees, including incidents that have been held to be sexual harassment. It is therefore important that employers ensure they have done everything possible to protect their employees.

In the lead up to the event, we recommend sending a friendly email to employees reminding them that the event is a work function and the applicable policies apply including harassment, sexual harassment and occupational health and safety. Employers should attach a copy of the relevant policies to the email and remind employees that they must conduct themselves in accordance with these policies at the event. We also recommend emphasising the need for employees to consume alcohol responsibly and not to drive if drinking alcohol.

In addition, we recommend:

  • ensuring that any alcohol is served responsibly;
  • ensuring that sufficient food and non-alcoholic drinks are served
  • making arrangements to assist employees to get home after the event, such as cab fares or organising a bus;
  • ensuring that at least one responsible manager is not drinking at the party and is keeping an eye
  • on appropriate behaviour (this should ideally be the HR Manager); and
  • importantly, if any inappropriate conduct occurs, employers should ensure that suitable action is taken in accordance with relevant policies and procedures.

A Christmas party is a fantastic way to celebrate all the hard work that has been done throughout the year. Putting these simple measures in place will assist in ensuring that it is a memorable event - for all the right reasons!