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End-of-Year Work Functions – ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’

11-Nov-2019 18:00 | Tracy Dawson (Administrator)

By Matthews Folbigg Lawyers

Year end work functions provide employers and employees with the opportunity to reflect on the year that was and are a great way to reward staff for their efforts and enthusiasm, however...

Responsibilities

As such functions are work events (even if held away from the workplace) an employer must take all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of employees including:

  • limiting employees’ consumption of alcohol if it is available, including by limiting alcohol options to beer and wine and/or implementing a ‘last drinks’ cut-off time
  • ensuring that sufficient food is available to mitigate the effects of the alcohol
  • ensuring illicit drugs are not consumed during the event
  • monitoring employee behaviour for any inappropriate conduct (eg, sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying or violence) and immediately intervening if any such behaviour occurs or has the potential to occur
  • being aware of any potential safety risks associated with the venue or activities (eg, falling overboard on a harbour cruise)
  • ensuring that any intoxicated employees do not drive home following the function and that such employees have access to public transport or other appropriate means of getting home
  • ensuring that a senior manager remains present and sober at all times during the function in order to monitor the function and deal with any issues if they arise

Prevention

To minimise risk, employers must be proactive in the lead-up to the function including by:

  • reminding employees that the function is work-related and that employees are expected to uphold the same standards of behaviour that apply during ordinary working hours
  • ensuring Codes of Conduct and other policies are in place relating to acceptable conduct at work and work-related functions, and referring employees to these policies in advance of the function
  • reminding employees of their obligations regarding the responsible consumption of alcohol and to not drive home whilst over the legal driving limit (or such lower limit as may be contained in any applicable company policy such as a drugs & alcohol policy)
  • making clear to employees that although the function is intended to be fun and enjoyable, any employees found engaging in inappropriate or dangerous behaviour during the function may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal

Lessons

Given the scope and potential seriousness of claims arising from inappropriate conduct during end-of-year work functions, it is essential that employers take pro-active steps to endeavour to prevent the inappropriate conduct before it arises.

If, however, an incident does occur then employers should:

  • conduct a thorough investigation into the incident including by interviewing all relevant parties and witnesses
  • ensure all employees involved in the incident are afforded fair and equal treatment
  • maintain procedural fairness throughout the investigation and any disciplinary proceeding
  • seek legal advice if dismissal is being considered

More Information

Please call the leading employment lawyers in Parramatta, the Matthews Folbigg Workplace Solutions employment law team on 9635 7966 to speak with one of our employment lawyers if you require any assistance or advice.


Article By

     

Stewart Gough, Principal

 

Peter Doughman, Senior Associate


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