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A great excuse for a social event… but what are the risks?

A great excuse for a social event… but what are the risks? (Last Updated On: October 30, 2014)

The Melbourne Cup is traditionally a time of year when workplaces around the country let their hair down. Employers around Australia normally hold lunches or workplace drinks as a fun team building exercise. Amidst the celebrations, employers need to be mindful of risks associated with seemingly harmless workplace parties. Being aware of these risks can help employers avoid the sobering effect of liability.

Employers have a duty of care towards employees and should not put their health or safety on the line. Free flowing bubbles in particular can lead to a number of incidents. At its most benign, overconsumption simply leads to a sore head the next day; however serious consequences can include injury and sexual harassment.

Employers need to recognise that when their company puts on an event they are the host and may be accountable for all guests and their health and welfare even if the event is held offsite. Workplace social event incidents that have resulted in successful lawsuits against employers are well documented, such as this recent case.

Staff morale can also be threatened when alcohol flows too freely. It’s worth keeping an eye on employee behaviour as the day wears on. Arguments can easily escalate to the point where it can cause irreparable damage to working relationships.

Other risks may not be immediately obvious. Many Australian businesses hold office sweeps as part of Melbourne Cup celebrations and a number of people who don’t normally gamble will participate on the day without incident. Employers should be mindful that some people may have genuine gambling addictions or addictive personalities.

Yet another danger to staff productivity doesn’t rear its ugly head until the next day – beware the sickies! It’s a well-known fact that sickies are as big a part of the Melbourne Cup as the horses. Last year, Direct Health Solutions reported that a 20 – 25 percent spike in absence was expected on Melbourne Cup Day.

The risks outlined above aren’t in any way an exhaustive list. While workplace social events are a great way to encourage a positive work culture, it makes sense to safeguard your business against potential liability and protect your greatest assets: your staff.

By Ruth Bourke, Employment Relations Adviser

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