Have yourself a merry little Christmas…party

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Employer’s duty of care, obligations at Christmas Party

Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the workplace, staff were happily planning for the Christmas party at pace. But at the party there arose such a clatter, a workplace suspension ensued for an indecent matter.

Throughout New Zealand, businesses and their employees are looking forward to celebrating the end of a particularly difficult 2020. It has never been more important to  reward staff and acknowledge their hard work, but employers and their staff need to be conscious of the risks that can arise through social interaction outside of the workplace (particularly when a social lubricant like alcohol is involved).

In the eyes of the law, hosting an end of year work party is no different to other activities employers are engaged in throughout the year. The employer’s duty of care and usual workplace obligations remain. By planning and being aware of the risks, employers can ensure everyone has a fun time – without keeping the HR Department busy after the party.

It’s important for employers to clearly identify what behaviour is inappropriate and openly communicate that message to staff.

The celebration atmosphere presents an additional challenge for employers, as the chance of excessive alcohol consumption increases. Do:

  • ensure you have responsible service of alcohol, including making sure employees have plenty of access to non-alcoholic drinks and food
  • be responsive, and prepared to cease to serve alcohol to any party goers, or to the group, if things are getting out of hand, and
  • make sure your staff have safe transport home and that there are clear and obvious alternatives to self-driving.

Both professional and business reputations can be put at risk when alcohol is involved – overzealous bumping and grinding on the dancefloor or a solo attempt on the karaoke microphone can be difficult to recover from. For employers, a workplace that is subject to a personal grievance for allowing or creating an environment in which antisocial behaviour and sexual harassment can flourish will always be bad for business.

As an employer, you don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas but you do need to show leadership. Model fun and appropriate behaviours that allow everyone to return to work on Monday without embarrassment – or even worse, a visit from HR.

How can we help?

WRMK Lawyers has Northland’s largest team of employment law specialists. If you need some help or guidance, please give one of us a call or contact your usual WRMK lawyer for advice.

WRMK Lawyers takes all reasonable care to make sure that the information in this article is up-to-date and accurate at today’s date. It is necessarily general information and not intended as legal advice to be relied upon.

Our thanks to David Grindle for writing this article, which was first published in the Northern Advocate on 16 December 2020.


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