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Avoiding Christmas Party Disasters at the Workplace

Published November 9, 2022 (last updated on June 5, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Content Writer


As workplaces around Australia wind down for another year, employers are turning their minds one of the most anticipated yet nerve wracking events on their calendars – the office Christmas party.

For some businesses, the Christmas Party is a simple, effortless get-together amongst colleagues. However, the same cannot be said for others. They can turn into a horror story littered with alcohol-fuelled incidents that can leave everyone mortified. It’s challenging pulling off a great event without enabling unruly staff behaviour that could potentially have long term consequences for the business, professional relationships, and individual careers.

Mr Felix Yeung, Head of Health, and Safety at Peninsula, one of Australia’s leading workplace relations specialists, has provided a statement on how employers can organise safe and fun Christmas parties without becoming the Grinch who stole Christmas for everyone.

“Your duty of care to your employees extends to work-related events, and this includes the annual Christmas party. Employers should have a clear policy outlining employee obligations and expected standards of conduct at work related events. In the lead up to the party, employers must ensure that staff are reminded of the standards of acceptable behaviour and their obligations to comply with company policies; particularly those relating to matters such as bullying and harassment, drugs and alcohol in the workplace and health and safety. Staff should be made aware of the start and finish times of the party and that any activities carried out after these times are not an extension of the Christmas party.”

“While it’s easy to picture the staff Christmas Party as a boozy affair, a heavy drinking session isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Others may not drink at all, and perhaps some employees don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s important to think of all the different ways to celebrate the occasion and offer a variety of food, drinks, and entertainment options so that everyone can participate.”

“Employers shouldn’t enable binge drinking. It’s perhaps no coincidence that some of the biggest Christmas Party horror stories typically originate from events where employers had offered an open bar which is nothing but a recipe for over-indulgence. Employers can offer an alternative such as drink tokens, smaller bar tabs or even ask staff to contribute to the cost of their own drinks.”

“Employers should consider designating ‘Sober Staff’ at Christmas parties; typically, someone senior who can observe staff conduct and quickly act on strategies to quell boozy behaviour by calling a taxi for an intoxicated employee or directing them to leave where necessary. For the designated sober staff, it means swapping the booze for a non-alcoholic drink, but it can save a load of HR headaches and gives the company a front-line defence against any employee who oversteps the boundaries of acceptable behaviour.”

Mr Yeung concluded with, “Sometimes even the best plans can go wrong. It’s in every business owner’s best interest to be prepared and to know their obligations. Incidents can happen at any given time, and some of them can result in serious consequences for all involved. And, while it can feel like an instant termination is warranted; dismissing an employee for poor misconduct isn’t an open and shut case. To avoid any Christmas party disasters, employers should plan ahead and stay prepared. We have made available resources specifically tailored to help business owners fully understand their obligations during year end festivities.”

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