Amongst all of the revelry and roistering this Christmas season, Australia’s fastest growing law firm LegalVision advises employers to exercise a healthy level of caution when conducting the end-of-year festivities.
Emma Jervis, Principal Lawyer at LegalVision, said that insensitive jokes, unwanted advances and inappropriate grabbing and touching were a particular problem at this time of year.
“Flowing alcohol can bring out the worst in some people, and when it’s an event held during ‘work time’, employers potentially leave themselves open to liability if due care isn’t exercised,” she pointed out.
“It may have sounded like a funny joke at the time, but you won’t be laughing when you or another employee is subsequently sued for discrimination or bullying.
“The complainant doesn’t even need to have been the target of the offensive behaviour. Simply overhearing colleagues tell sexual jokes could be construed as sexual harassment.”
Practical steps that employers can take to protect the business from over-zealous merry-making include:
Know your policies and enforce them
Your employees’ behaviour could breach your workplace’s Sexual Harassment Policy, providing grounds to potentially terminate their employment contract.
Revisit these policies and ensure your employees are familiar with the company’s expectations on appropriate behaviour. Circulating a reminder attaching the actual policy document is a good start.
Specify what does and doesn’t constitute ‘work time’
Behaviour during work time is regulated by the workplace policies and legislation. Generally, behaviour outside of work time is not. You can also be held vicariously liable unless you can show what steps were taken to prevent the occurrence of the offensive conduct.
If your workers want to ‘kick on’ after the work party has come to an end, you should make it explicit that any continuing functions are not deemed to be in the course of work.
Take care of interstate staff
If you have interstate workers that are coming to the office specifically for the Christmas party, you could be held liable if they are injured outside of the festivities if it’s found that the injury was sustained in the course of their employment.
Even an employee falling down in the shower could expose you to liability, so consider dropping a little extra coin on their accommodation to ensure it’s safe.
Exercise responsible service of alcohol
If you think it’s contradictory to expect compliance with the usual standards of behaviour while serving employees an unlimited supply of alcohol, you’d be right on the money.
It was recently found that employers can’t rely strictly on their workplace policies in such instances, which means it’s in your best interest to include a generous serving of food as part of the catering package.
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