When it comes to workplace social events such as the end of year festivities around Christmas and New Year, employers responsibilities for the health and safety of their employees is just as important at these events as it is in the normal day to day workplace.

It is important to take a number of key elements into consideration when choosing to hold an end of year function for your employees. Your choices in planning the event will not only ensure a safe, enjoyable event for those attending, but could also help protect the business against certain claims such as, but not limited to; workers compensation, sexual harassment and discrimination.

Anti-discrimination and workplace health and safety laws in Australia impose a duty of care on employers for ensuring the health and safety of employees, not only whilst they are performing work, but also at events outside of work where there is a connection to the workplace. As a result, it is essential that all reasonable steps are taken toward ensuring the health and safety of employees, both physically and mentally, before a workplace event.

If an incident occurs at a workplace social event, as the employer, you may be found to have vicarious liability for the incident occurring and the consequences. This scenario most commonly arises from incidents involving sexual harassment or discrimination and the range of accountability can extend to anyone who could be held responsible for the event, including directors and human resources.

As an employer, what should I consider when planning an end of year event?

Social Media: Something as ‘simple’ as a Snapchat message or Instagram post of an employee at your event could impose a risk on the business. This is especially true if the person in the picture did not provide consent or is portrayed in a damaging light. Having a social media policy that clearly outlines the use of social media at workplace events is important in minimising these types of incidents.

Alcohol: If the event will offer alcoholic options, consider holding your event at a reputable establishment, separate to the business, where the responsible service of alcohol can be assured. Consider providing non-alcoholic options as well as plenty of food when alcohol is being served. Alternately; consider providing employees with limited coupons for drinks with the option to purchase more at their own discretion after the event. If the business has a drug and alcohol policy, employees should be reminded of their responsibilities under the policy, and the extension to workplace events.

Code of Conduct: Re-circulating the Code of Conduct reminds employees to take responsibility for their behaviours in the workplace, including at workplace events. It can help to create a positive workplace culture and minimise the risk of inappropriate behaviour at these events.

Procedure: Make sure a procedure is in place for managing complaints relating to incidents at workplace events. Managers must be supportive, understanding and accepting of any complaints they receive from employees concerning an incident that occurred at a workplace event. Employers need to ensure a thorough and fair investigation is taken into any complaints made.

Who’s on the Guest List? Consider if family, friends or partners of your employees will be invited. Whilst ideally your employees will be responsible for them, these are people your business may not have met before. Depending on the type of function you are hosting, your risk may be elevated by having people in attendance who have no obligation to follow your organisations policies.

That’s a wrap: Finally, make sure everyone leaves the event safely. Suggest methods of transport for those in attendance or put plans in place for a buddy system when they are leaving a venue or the office after hours. Alternatively; offer taxi or a shuttle bus for employees to get home after the event.  While you cannot ensure the options made available are used by the employees, giving them the ability to make the responsible choice is a step in the right direction.

For more information on how to prepare for the upcoming festive function or for advice on managing poor behaviour at such events, contact the experts in CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or email advice@cciwa.com

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