Sleighing employment risks during Christmas party season

18 October, 2023

The holiday season is just around the corner, and there’s no doubt that one of the most anticipated events on your company’s calendar is the annual Christmas party. It’s a time to celebrate. However, it also comes with some potential legal risks that employers need to be aware of and manage carefully.

Work Christmas parties are an extension of the workplace, and as such, employers bear a responsibility to diligently take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health and safety of their employees and prevent any unlawful or inappropriate behaviour at these events. In the event that discrimination, harassment or bullying transpires during a work function, an employer is at risk of being held vicariously liable for such conduct unless they can demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to reduce, mitigate and manage the improper behaviour.

When situations take an unfavourable turn, employers can find themselves vulnerable to a variety of claims. These can include complaints of sexual harassment, instances of bullying, discrimination, and even workers’ compensation claims. Not only will such claims be damaging to an employer’s reputation and put a dampener on employee morale, they are also time-consuming and costly.

This article will provide some practical tips on how to plan and host a safe and enjoyable work Christmas party, while minimising the risks of liability for any incidents that may arise.

In preparation for end of year corporate functions and events in the workplace, employers should consider taking the following measures to mitigate risks that may arise:

  1. Ensure that the appropriate workplace behaviour policies are in place, and that these are circulated and reinforced prior to the event so that employees are familiar with their obligations and don’t overstep these boundaries. The company and individual staff members have a legal obligation not to engage in and to prevent inappropriate conduct, and to always maintain acceptable and respectful workplace behaviour.
  2. When alcohol is being served during a work event, it’s essential to maintain moderation. Provide an ample supply of food and non-alcoholic beverages and establish a clear end time for the event. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a host of employment issues, and Inebriated employees may engage in inappropriate behaviour, offensive comments, or become a safety risk.
  3. If a theme is in place, make certain that it is appropriate and does not carry the risk of being offensive. Employers should clearly communicate the expected dress code before the event, potentially offering examples of acceptable and unacceptable attire.
  4. Inform employees that when it comes to sharing photos and related content on social media platforms during the event, they should exercise caution. An image that may potentially be embarrassing has the capacity to not only damage the employer’s reputation but also pose a risk of potential claims related to bullying and sexual harassment. Remember, once something is posted, it is there forever.
  5. Your responsibility for your employee’s does not conclude once the party is over. Make sure that employees have a convenient and secure means of transportation for their journey back home from the event. Liability may also encompass an accident that occurs while an employee is on their way home from a work event.

Therefore, while the annual Christmas party is a time for celebration, we must remember that our professional responsibilities do not disappear when the festive season arrives. By proactively managing potential risks, setting clear expectations, and promoting responsible behaviour, employers can ensure a harmonious and enjoyable event for all.

So, as you gear up for this year’s Christmas celebrations, do so with confidence that with careful planning and thoughtful execution, you can enjoy the festivities while keeping employment risks at bay.

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