Any healthy workplace culture relies on an occasional work function.
Whether it’s calendar festivities, celebrating another year in business or raising a glass to having landed that big account – work parties can be great for employee bonding and morale. But they’re also a potential legal minefield. Employee behaviour, venue choice, timing, the food and beverages served and transport options are just some of the issues for business owners to address.
Here’s our guide on work function legal issues, ensuring you and your employees have a fun (but most importantly safe) time letting their hair down.
Who is responsible?
It’s worth mentioning that on-site and off-site celebrations – and indeed other spontaneous events – can be considered part of a workplace environment. That means, in most cases the duty of care for worker behaviour lies with you and your business.
It’s essential that you communicate your workplace’s policies to your employees prior to the event. These should include policies relating to sexual harassment, alcohol and drugs, discrimination, workplace health and safety, and bullying. You need to ensure the venue serves alcohol in a responsible way and remember, any injuries sustained at a work function could also be the basis of a compensation claim against your business.
We believe the best option is an all-staff email clarifying that:
1. The function is a work environment.
2. The policies applying to employment are still in effect at the function – attach these to the email.
3. Failure to observe these policies may lead to disciplinary action and possible termination.
4. The function will serve a selection of non-alcoholic drinks, providing options for everyone.
5. The function will have a start and finish time and any “after party” events will be considered outside of the workplace.
6. Suitable transport arrangements will be made for employees to get home safely at the function’s conclusion.
We suggest you nominate a trustworthy and competent staff member to run the function, so they can deal with any concerns as they happen.
You also need to be careful when an employee misbehaves. This can be a difficult area of the law and in a recent case, Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey Joint Venture (2015), the Fair Work Commission ruled an employee was unfairly dismissed for his intimidating and sexually harassing behaviour at a work Christmas function. The employer-sponsored event supplied “an unlimited service of free alcohol” and this was considered by the law to have contributed to the employee’s behaviour.
Make sure you put the right measures in place and, if anything does happen, speak with us before making any quick decisions.
As always, use your Local Intelligence. If we can help you and your business in any way, give us a call.
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