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Work-related events – where is the line?

Work-related events – where is the line? (Last Updated On: August 3, 2015)

A recent case involving Leighton Boral has been making headlines this month, after a team leader won his claim for unfair dismissal. He won the case on the basis his inappropriate conduct took place after the hours of an official work party. Click here for our related blog post on the story.

The concern surrounding this case is that despite swearing at managers, sexually harassing female colleagues and intimidating others at the work Christmas party, the Fair Work Commission determined that because most of these incidences occurred outside the hours of the official function, they were irrelevant to the employment relationship. In finding the dismissal to be unfair, the Commission also took into account the employer’s failure to regulate the employee’s consumption of alcohol during the function, and the lack of procedural process applied by Leighton Boral prior to the dismissal.

Was the employer wrong to take action against the employee?

This is a tricky one as the team leader appeared to cross the line, leading Leighton Boral to act in what they deemed to be fair and in the best interests of affected employees.

The burning question for majority of the employers now is: how do you manage a similar situation if it‘s presented?

Employment problems like this are not uncommon, and generally arise when employers are faced with the challenge of identifying an unclear boundary around work-related actions, which can be difficult to determine.

What can you do to avoid this in your business?

The backlash you have seen as a result of this case is because employers are questioning the risks associated with holding work functions, serving alcohol and their responsibilities associated with employee actions. Work functions are often viewed as an integral part of company culture and can be beneficial in molding workplace relationships, but where does the risk become too much?

Rest assured you can still hold work functions but it is important to have the correct workplace policies and procedures in place. Below are seven steps you can take to try and limit work function and workplace incidents.

  1. Provide all employees with a clear Code of Conduct and Employee Handbook, outlining exactly what is expected from them and what disciplinary action will take place should these standards not be met.
  2. In the code and Handbook, make reference to behaviour at work functions and/or third party events where employees may be representing the company.
  3. Prior to any work function, ensure employees are aware that the Code of Conduct is to be adhered to at all times, including any non-work related after-party.
  4. As you have a duty of care to all employees, including at work functions, always supply food and inform the venue that responsible service of alcohol must be enforced and/or, monitor the consumption yourself and limit accordingly.
  5. If you are faced with a situation, talk with the employee/s involved as soon as you are made aware of the incident, ensuring no accusatory stance is taken.
  6. Follow the correct protocols and investigate the issue. Once the outcome is determined, carry out the appropriate procedures, which can include written warnings.
  7. Where applicable, in the interest of maintaining workplace relationships, recommend a meeting with all employees involved in the incident, in order to work towards a satisfactory outcome.

With such complicated regulations and obligations, clear boundaries around when these responsibilities apply and when employers can take action against employees are essential. Due to the complexity involved, it is very important to seek expert advice on a case-by-case basis.

Employsure is on hand, 24/7, to assist in matters such as this by advising on the correct way to manage a situation and, if required, the appropriate disciplinary steps to take and action to carry out.

For assistance on tackling workplace issues, contact Employsure on 1300 651 415 today.

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