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Ho, Ho…uh oh… – the work Christmas party

It’s that time of year again! With Christmas just around the corner and the year fast drawing to a close it’s time to celebrate the year that’s been and enjoy the festivities of the Christmas season… just don’t get too carried away!

One of the highlights on our social calendars would have to be the annual work Christmas party. What better way to celebrate the year’s accomplishments and get to know our colleagues better?

In all the excitement it can be easy to forget that the Christmas party is a work function and that your responsibilities as a University employee carry over to the Christmas party too.

Whether or not the event takes place outside of work hours and/or away from the office, the Christmas party is connected to your employment at the University and so normal work rules and policies apply.

Inappropriate behaviour including, discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at the Christmas party could result in disciplinary action or dismissal. Be careful not to get carried away and do or say something that you may later regret!

Organising a successful Christmas function

There are a few simple steps to take to ensure that your Christmas party is a safe and enjoyable celebration for everyone:

  1. Ensure responsible service of alcohol and if alcohol is being supplied, ensure there will be sufficient food
  2. Consider how to ensure safe transport from the Christmas party, particularly where alcohol is supplied – maybe a group bus could be arranged?
  3. Inform staff that the usual behavioural standards and organisational policies apply to the Christmas party – and any misconduct could result in disciplinary action, or in certain circumstance, termination of employment
  4. Make it clear to all staff that moving on to another venue is not part of the approved work function
  5. In the event that misconduct does occur make sure that you investigate thoroughly and act with procedural fairness for all involved.

In an environment where alcohol is being served there can be an increased risk of accident or anti-social behaviour. Organisers have an obligation to ensure responsible service of alcohol at the event. If an employee injures themselves at a Christmas party they can lodge a workers’ compensation claim. If an employee feels that they are being harassed or bullied at the Christmas party then they can report this and expect that the University policies and procedures will be followed.

So, careful planning and management of the potential risks at the work Christmas party may ensure a a happy celebration for everyone. Without proper planning, things can go very wrong and may leave you with a terrible hangover that will last into the new year.

One work Christmas party ended with the termination of one person’s employment after they had sexually harassed colleagues and verbally abused their bosses. However, the Fair Work Commission later found that the employee’s behaviour at the function was not serious enough to justify dismissal.  The Commission noted that there had been a lack of planning and control of the Christmas event – including provision of an unlimited supply of alcohol – and ruled that the employee had been unfairly dismissed (Keenan v Leighton Boral, 2015).

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