When festive fun turns to fire – Protecting employers from the legal hangover!

It is that time of year again, when employers reward their employees with a Christmas function and invitees get excited about the upcoming social events. But what will be the cost of the festive fun to the employment relationship?

A few drinks can quickly turn into a serious legal hangover for employers. Before the big event, employers need to be proactive and take steps to ensure they have the best protection against a potential claim following a work related function.

Regardless of the time of day or location, end of year parties are activities undertaken “in the course of employment”. This means employers owe employees a duty of care even though the function is not occurring in the “usual” workplace. Even though the function might occur out of hours or offsite, employers continue to be responsible for their employees, particularly in relation to workplace health and safety, discrimination and harassment and bullying.

Employers are also responsible for ensuring that employees and other guests under 18 years of age do not consume alcohol. Although function venues also have responsibilities regarding responsible service of alcohol and non-service of alcohol to minors, it may not be possible for staff at the function venue to identify minors. Further, depending on the way the alcohol is served (such as on the table), it may be easily accessible to all attendees. Employers should make sure that employees and other guests who are under 18 are identified and made known to the function venue. Although this may initially seem embarrassing for those involved, it is a necessary precaution and is in the best interests of the employer and the employee.

To ensure a fun and fire free festive season, employers should:

  1. Tell employees the start and end time of the function and make it clear to the employees that the employer does not endorse any activities which go beyond the designated end time.
  2. Remind employees of appropriate workplace behaviour. A workplace behaviour “refresher” session for all employees is both recommended and encouraged.
  3. Ensure employees understand and accept the employer’s policies and procedures, particularly in relation to harassment, safety, social media and alcohol and drugs, and the consequences of breaching those policies and procedures.
  4. Conduct a compulsory pre-function training session and record the names of the attendees. Any employees who are not able to attend the training session should be spoken to separately and prior to attending the function.
  5. Have a system in place for identifying those employees and other guests at the function who are under 18 and ensure those employees and other guests are not served alcohol.
  6. Control the service of alcohol at the function and ensure that sufficient amounts of food and non-alcoholic beverages are made available to all attendees.
  7. Nominate a person to remain sober to oversee the function and address inappropriate behaviour promptly, such as by sending people home or closing the bar.
  8. Provide safe transportation options to your employees and if necessary, provide them with taxi vouchers or arrange a mini-bus.

Should you have any queries regarding your obligations as an employer or would like assistance with conducting a pre-function training session, please contact Sarah Stoddart on (07) 3370 0200 or sarahstoddart@stoddartlegal.com.au

This article is intended to be for general information only. It does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish a relationship of client and lawyer. Specific circumstances or changes in law may vary the accuracy or applicability of the information published. We recommend seeking specific legal advice particular to your circumstances before taking any action, or refraining from taking any action, on any issue dealt with in this article.