We have said it before and we will say it again, there is unfortunately no fool proof course of action that employers can take to entirely prevent employees from engaging in inappropriate behaviour at work functions. However, there are a number of preventative steps that employers can take to minimise the risk associated with work functions.
What you need to know:
- Employers are legally responsible for the conduct of employees at work related events such as work Christmas parties.
- Employers can reduce their risk by taking a number of preventative steps – inclusive of ensuring that there is a designated “sober” person supervising the function and arranging safe transportation home for employees.
Most employers are aware that they can be held to be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees at work functions. This is concerning as the social atmosphere of work functions, not to mention the consumption of alcohol, often leads to employees exercising bad judgement.
The good news is that there are a number of things that employers can do to reduce the risk of any employee misconduct occurring and to minimise vicarious liability.
Here are our recommended preventative steps:
- Remind employees that as the function is a work related event, they are expected to comply with the workplace policies and distribute the relevant policies (discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, alcohol and drug use etc.).
- Warn employees about the consequences of unacceptable behaviour.
- Specify clear start and end times of the function and ensure alcohol is not served after the end time.
- Serve alcohol responsibly and ensure that non-alcoholic drinks and food are available.
- Make sure that employees below the legal drinking age do not drink.
- Ensure that there is a designated “sober” person who is keeping an eye on the revelries and taking appropriate action should any issues ensue (this person is usually the HR Manager – sorry!).
- Ensure that safe transportation home is available and advise employees that they should not drive if they are intending on drinking.
- If an employee is acting up at a work function, ‘nip it in the bud’ immediately.
- Don’t organise, or pay for, drinks at alternative venues after the event is finished.
- Ensure that everyone vacates the premises at the end of the event.
While you cannot completely eliminate any employee misconduct at a work function, taking the above steps will assist in minimising risk.
About Emily Dempster:
Emily practices exclusively in the area of workplace relations at Madgwicks. She regularly advises human resources managers and company owners on all aspects of workplace relations law, from complex projects such as redundancies and restructures to day-to-day issues such as compliance, investigations, dismissals and employment litigation. She has appeared in all Victorian State and Federal Courts as well as the Fair Work Commission, the Victorian and, Australian Human Rights Commissions and the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.