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The following article explains employer obligations to ensure safe work functions

We are approaching the Christmas season at speed!

Before sending out that Christmas party invitation to your team, its important you understand your obligations across two key areas:

1. What are your obligations as an employer around staff functions?
2. How can you ensure your social event provides for a safe environment with clear behavioural expectations?

Legal H&S obligations

Your obligation to provide a healthy and safe work environment under the Health and Safety Act 2015 apply to your end of year Christmas party too. Even if the party is not at the workplace, or is outside of work hours, employers have an obligation to look after the health and safety of their staff. This means taking steps to avoid accidents or inappropriate behaviour, like sexual harassment and bullying.

Take reasonable steps

For this reason, it is very important that you consider taking all reasonable steps to minimise any identified risks. If anything was to happen at the party, worst case scenario is that your business (or even individual employees of the business) can be held responsible for any health and safety breaches, for failing to provide an environment that is safe and without risks to health.

Employee behaviour

Before the party begins, employers should remind staff of their expected behaviour. Businesses that have policies or codes of conduct in place to determine appropriate behaviour should remind employees of these.

Alcohol and drugs

Alcohol can be a major factor in inappropriate behaviour and a health and safety risk. Employers should take steps to encourage moderate alcohol consumption. They could do this by making sure that there is enough food and non-alcoholic drinks available and having managers lead by example. Employers could also consider having a cut-off time for alcoholic drinks.

Employers should remind employees of their responsibilities as set out in the workplace drugs and alcohol policy, particularly if employees need to work the day after the party.

Transport

While employers don’t have to provide transport for employees to get home from the party, their health and safety obligations do mean that they need to put steps in place to make sure their staff can get home safely and don’t drink and drive. Employers could advise employees of the public transport options available, arrange taxis before the party ends, or arrange sober drivers.

Business Reputation

Businesses should consider their reputations during the Christmas party, as poor behaviour could reflect badly on the organisation’s brand and damage its reputation. Some employees may decide to continue the party after the work Christmas party ends. They should be reminded that their actions could negatively affect the employer’s reputation, particularly if they are wearing uniforms or name badges.

Employee misconduct

If an employee is suspected of bad behaviour at the Christmas party, then the employer should conduct a fair investigation in good faith. Any type of harassment that occurs at the party may be misconduct and must be addressed properly by the employer.

Employers’ pre-celebration checklist (hosting a work party)

  • If you are serving alcohol, provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages to help reduce the risk of inappropriate or alcohol-fuelled behaviour.
  • Ensure that you have considered how employees will get home safety. While it’s not a requirement to provide transport at a party, you can rest easy if you know your staff has a safe route home. Informing attendees of their options around public transport, pre-booking taxis and facilitating things like designated drivers and carpooling can ensure that when the fun starts to wind down, everyone ends up safe in bed.
  • While it is important to encourage everyone to have a good time, employees should still be reminded that normal workplace standards of conduct will be in force at the party and misconduct at, or after, the party can result in disciplinary action.
  • Having a sober supervisor/ manager present can help to ensure everyone’s safety. Giving the sober supervisor/manager some guidance as to what to do in common situations would also be helpful.
  • Ensure you have identified significant health and safety hazards and have planned strategies to manage them.

Employee reminders when attending a work party:

  • If you are drinking alcohol, be mindful of how much you are drinking. Over-indulging could lead to behaviour or conduct that results in disciplinary action or harms your career.
  • Keeping conversations light and fun makes it easier to enjoy each other’s company and relax. Avoid talking shop, gossiping, telling off colour jokes, getting involved in heated arguments and making sexual comments or advances.
  • Making an effort to talk to a few colleagues or supervisors who you don’t know very well can be a great opportunity to build rapport. It can be as easy as introducing yourself on a personal level and talking about hobbies or interests.
  • Holiday work parties are an extension of the business. Dressing appropriately is important, even if you are wearing something festive or themed.

Have a Safe and Happy Christmas.