03.12.2013

Work Christmas Functions

Employers have responsibility for their staff at any work-related Christmas function.  This can potentially include client functions.

Employee behaviour can stray into misconduct, particularly where alcohol is involved.  Commonly these are incidents involving two (or more!) employees, such as arguments.  They can escalate into fighting and far more serious incidents involving other people or property.  In relation to clients or third persons, the reputation of the employer can be at stake if the employees are identifiable as being part of the employer’s business.

Employers also have health and safety obligations to their employees and others.  This includes (but is not limited to) a misbehaving employee and any other employees or other people whose safety is compromised by the actions of an employee.

Any of these types of incidents (together with other party-gone-wrong possibilities, such as harassment, violence, damage to property, theft, etc.) are capable of being misconduct.  Any employer could consider running a disciplinary process.

Prevention is better than cure – so what can employers do to prevent problems arising from the Christmas party?

  • Send a reminder to employees in advance, including any relevant policies.  Explain the impact of these in clear terms and any expectations as to behaviour.
  • Good host responsibilities – provide food, non-alcoholic drinks, and don’t serve intoxicated persons (limit and control alcohol availability).
  • Have some sober managers present at the party to keep an eye on things.
  • Encourage collective responsibility, i.e. make employees responsible for their colleagues (particularly in relation to alcohol consumption and behaviour).
  • Prohibit work vehicles being taken to functions unless the driver is a dedicated sober driver.
  • Arrange for transport home or accommodation.
  • Finally, don’t kill the fun – remind employees it is fun, a celebration, and that drunk employees spoil the party for everyone.

What about client parties?  Yes, this can potentially be a work function.  It is most certainly related to work.  The same issues arise with regard to employee behaviour, particularly if it is potentially dangerous.  Employers may be expected to take some responsibility for their employees even though they are at someone else’s function where you will have less control over them.

In addition, poor employee behaviour at a client’s function has the potential to damage the client relationship, reputation of your business and potentially lose the client and any other clients that may also be present.

This can be raised as potential misconduct and a disciplinary process commenced.

Again prevention being better than cure:

  • Send a reminder to employees in advance, including any relevant policies.  Explain the impact of these in clear terms and any expectations as to behaviour.
  • Tell employees that they are attending client functions as guests and as ambassadors of their employer.  That is important to reinforce that everything they do reflects on you.
  • Try and balance fun with restraint.
  • Also consider providing transport home.  This may depend on the nature of the client relationship and your general awareness of it, e.g. a big client with many people from your business attending will give you more opportunity to put some rules in place and have someone keep an eye on proceedings.
Do you need expert legal advice?
Contact the expert team at Hesketh Henry.
Kerry
Media contact - Kerry Browne
Please contact Kerry with any media enquiries and with any questions related to marketing or sponsorships on +64 9 375 8747 or via email.

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