Christmas functions with a legal hangover

Many employers will now be hosting their end of year staff functions.  While employees often see these events as an opportunity to “let their hair down”, the legal position is clear.  An office Christmas party is conducted “in the course of one’s employment”.  As such, employers remain legally obligated to provide a safe workplace.  Equally, employees have a reciprocal obligation to act safely (responsibly) in the workplace and are required to act in accordance with the policies and procedures of the workplace.

Employers need to remain cognisant of their legal responsibilities and ensure that the office Christmas party is conducted in a responsible way to reduce the risk of claims that may result from inappropriate staff behaviour.  There are several reported cases which stem from the office Christmas function which record the outcomes of over zealous partygoers or boorish behaviour at such functions.

But what can be done to ensure a business Christmas function does not leave a legal hangover?  Some practical tips to assist employers to provide an enjoyable Christmas party while reducing the risk of unwanted consequences are:

  • Prior to the function, the employer should remind all staff that whilst it may be a Christmas function and a time to relax and enjoy themselves, it is still work sponsored and there are appropriate and required standards of behaviour to be observed.
  • Employees should be made aware that if any inappropriate behaviour takes place, it is likely to be subject to disciplinary action.
  • The employer should manage the service of alcohol in a reasonable and responsible manner and if necessary, be in a position to stop the service at the function generally or to those employees who have over indulged.
  • There should always be non-alcoholic or low alcohol options available for staff.
  • There should be appropriate food available throughout the function.
  • The function should have a set finishing time.
  • At least one member of the management team attending the function should elect not to drink and oversee the event.
  • The employer should provide a process for staff to get home safely.

Whilst the office Christmas function is a time to relax and enjoy the company of others, such a function is an extension of the workplace.  Hence appropriate standards and decorum need to be maintained to ensure the wellbeing and safety of all concerned.

It is indeed a case of prevention being better than the cure.  For further advice please do not hesitate to contact the Lavan Legal Employment and Workplace Relations Team.  

Disclaimer – the information contained in this publication does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice in relation to any particular matter you may have before relying or acting on this information. The Lavan team are here to assist.