How to Ensure Your December Christmas Party Doesn't Become Your January Hangover

22 December 2015

Christmas party season is in full swing and with it comes the potential for a host of employment law issues.  The season is ripe for both employers and employees to make mistakes, and failures in this area can have serious consequences.  There are countless ways that work parties can cause January hangovers for employers.

Before the party: Employers should make sure that all employees are invited to the function.  This includes employees who are on parental leave and sick leave.  It also includes inviting employees without children to any children’s parties that you might be having.  Failing to include employees in these categories may open the door to discrimination claims.

At the party: Employers have a duty of care to their employees in the course of their employment and this extends to work events. From a practical perspective it is sensible to consider post-party taxis to mitigate risks.  It also pays to be sensitive to any minority groups in your workplace.  For example, very young employees, non-drinkers and any specific cultural issues that may be relevant.

Consider how much alcohol will be supplied.  Last Christmas an employee in Australia was dismissed because he sexually harassed his colleagues at the Christmas party and (amongst other things) told his bosses to f*** off.  The Australian Fair Work Commission held [1] that he was unfairly dismissed having regard to several factors including that the employer had supplied him with a free flow of alcohol.

Beware of managers making promises at the party.  In the UK case of Judge v Crown Leisure [2] an employee claimed that he had been promised a salary increase by his manager at the Christmas party.  The employee later resigned and claimed constructive dismissal on the basis that the manager had broken a contractual promise. Whilst this case was ultimately decided in the employer’s favour, it is preferable to avoid being in this situation in the first place.

Post-Party: Social media can add another layer of risk, particularly if employees upload compromising photographs of their colleagues, or tag the business.  With this comes a minefield of wide-ranging potential issues from bullying, to data protection issues, to reputational risk or damage to the business or employees.  It is advisable for employers to have social media policies in place and remind employees of the likely consequences for misuse.

Post-Party: Employers should also consider how lenient they will be in relation to lateness or absence from work the morning after the party.  With the current focus on health and safety, a vigilant employer would also be alert to employees arriving at work drunk, especially if they will be driving or operating machinery as part of their job.

Good luck and Merry Christmas!

This article is intended to provide a general guide on this topic.  Legal advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

[1] Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey NSW Pty Ltd [2015] FWC 3156.
[2] Judge v Crown Leisure Ltd (2005, IRLR 823). (UK)


Carolyn Gardner is a Senior Solicitor in the Employment team at Norris Ward McKinnon. Contact Carolyn at [email protected]

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