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Office Christmas parties: It’s about respect, Santa

07 December 2022

#Workplace Relations & Safety

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Office Christmas parties: It’s about respect, Santa

If ever there was a festive season that justified a little reflection about what makes a safe workplace before everyone heads off to the Christmas party bar and buffet, it is this one.

As employers continue to grapple with the changing risks and requirements of our COVID-conscious world, the Federal Government’s Respect@Work legislation has created a new positive duty on employers to eliminate sex discrimination and sexual harassment

Just in time for your Christmas party, that duty on employers now extends to protecting against conduct like sexual banter or innuendo that increases the risk of sexual harassment or the development of an intimidating or humiliating environment.

It is not hard to think of embarrassingly commonplace Christmas party behaviour which crosses that line and puts you and your staff at risk. So before you get that party started, give some real thought to your Christmas party preparation checklist:

  • harassment is not a joke – have employees been reminded that the Christmas party is a workplace? If you wouldn’t say it or do it at the staff meeting on Monday morning, don’t say it or do it at the Christmas party on Friday evening
  • social media can be anti-social – harassment is still harassment even if it is electronic. Do you have a social media policy? Do staff know that posting inappropriate photos or comments from the Christmas party can be harassment and can result in disciplinary action?
  • drinking can make people drunk – are there cultures inside your workplace that condone excessive drinking? Have you reminded staff of the repercussions of excessive drinking, the legal driving limits and their responsibility to drink alcohol responsibly?
  • COVID-19 has not gone away – do you have a COVID-19 safety plan relevant for your Christmas party venue? Have you checked the venue provider’s COVID-19 plan? Take guidance from the local Department of Health’s social distancing guidelines.
  • not everyone is a carnivore – do you know if staff have special dietary requirements? Does your venue cater for a range of diets?
  • kicking on after the whistle has blown – have you made it clear to staff when last drinks is? Don’t arrange for drinks at a second venue unless you are prepared to accept the risks that come with the work party going all night long
  • someone has to be the adult in the room – what supervision will you have to prevent excessive drinking and inappropriate behaviour?
  • always take the weather with you – high temperatures or slippery surfaces caused by rain can impact your staff’s safety. Be sure to check that first aid facilities are available at the venue
  • the long and winding road – make sure you have a plan for how your workers will travel to and from the venue.

Most importantly – don’t forget to enjoy the festive season at the end of another challenging year, so here’s looking to a safe and happy Christmas for everyone and a successful 2023.

If you have any questions or want more information, please contact Partner Michael Selinger, Special Counsel David Quinn, or a member of our national Workplace Relations & Safety team in the Key Contacts section below.

Author: David Quinn

The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

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