December is an exciting month for employees with Christmas functions, closing out a busy year and pending holidays. Throw in the celebratory drinks and it can be a dangerous mix. Inebriated employees may act out of character and in a manner that goes beyond appropriate workplace behaviour, potentially leading to claims of bullying, harassment and other allegations.

Employers should consider the following when taking steps to proactively manage employee behaviour at Christmas functions:

  • Policies—an employer should have clear and accessible policies in place that unambiguously identify unacceptable conduct.
  • Timely reminder—employees should be reminded of what is expected of them as well as what constitutes unacceptable conduct before the festivities. This can be done by sending an email to employees pre-event.
  • Safety—during work-related social events, including those held off-site, the employer remains responsible for employees' safety. This obligation includes reminding employees of their safety obligations to colleagues, reminding employees to drink responsibly and to behave appropriately, and to ensure the venue at which the function will be at is safe. Consideration should be given to providing transport home from functions, such as taxis, or that the function is in close proximity to public transport.
  • Clever catering—employers should ensure there is adequate food available and that alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available.
  • Responsible adult—identify a manager who will remain sober during the event to monitor employee behaviour, intervene if necessary and be the point person for any issues regarding behaviour during the function.
  • No excuse—an off-site venue for a Christmas function is an extension of the workplace, so being out of the office does not provide an excuse for inappropriate behaviour.
  • Disciplinary action—any misconduct during a Christmas function held off-site should be dealt with in the same manner as misconduct in the workplace. Allegations should be made promptly and then fully investigated. Any disciplinary action taken should be in proportion to the level of misconduct.

With a little pre-planning and consideration of the points above, employers can better-manage the risks that arise when alcohol is served at end-of-year festivities and allow everyone to have an enjoyable time.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2016 issue of Plumbing SA Magazine and is republished here with their kind permission. 

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