Christmas Parties and Health and Safety Obligations — Avoiding a Legal Sack of Coal this Christmas

8 December 2020

We’re in the festive season again, and many companies are planning or hosting their annual Christmas parties. This article sets out a few tips to help employers throw a safe and enjoyable Christmas party. If you haven’t already, check out our article on Christmas Parties and Confidentiality Obligations as well.

Employers’ obligations go beyond the workplace

Wherever employers hold their Christmas party, it’s still a work event, and employers will be obliged to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure their employees’ health and safety. Even though it’s a chance for employees to let their hair down, employers still need to ensure that any hazards are identified and steps are taken to remove them or minimize the potential risk that they pose.

Set expectations beforehand

Employers should remind their staff about any work policies they have around the consumption of alcohol, and behaviour expectations at work functions. Employers could even attach these to the same email used to invite staff to the function.


If alcohol is being served, employers need to ensure that consumption is moderated. Employers could consider designating some senior staff or managers to stay sober and keep an eye on everyone’s behaviour—not to act like wet blankets, but to help make sure everyone is enjoying themselves and everything is safe and above-board.

Employers should also provide food and non-alcoholic alternatives – especially for people who prefer not to drink!


Employers should consider arranging travel options for their employees to get home after the Christmas party—whether that’s hiring taxis/ubers or organising sober drivers. At the very least, employers should let employees know about public transport options available.

If an accident or incident does occur, employers must ensure they act in good faith and follow fair processes. Options such as suspensions or independent investigations could be appropriate, or notifying WorkSafe if there has been serious harm, however we recommend getting professional advice from the outset.

NWM wishes everyone a safe and happy Christmas and New Year! If you would like guidance or advice on your legal obligations around workplace Christmas parties, please contact our Commercial Disputes and Employment Team.

Levi Harris is part of our Corporate & Commercial team at Norris Ward McKinnon.

Corporate & Commercial Team