Christmas cheer without too much beer

The annual office, factory or worksite Christmas function is sometimes reported in the subsequent firm newsletter or intranet as a ‘night to remember’.  Often photographs are published of employee partygoers in an exuberant mood.  Occasionally the photographs may show employees affected by alcohol or otherwise out of control.

The consequences for employers who conduct Christmas functions are no different from those similar events or functions held on other occasions during the year.  However, with the onset of the festive season, it is worthwhile revisiting some of the prospective consequences and litigation that can result from the annual Christmas function.

Examples of potential litigation that could result from a disorganised Christmas function may include any of the following:

  • a claim for damages by an employee injured in a fight;

  • sexual harassment at the function which could be vicariously attributed to the employer with resultant claim; and

  • dismissal of an employee as a result of conduct at the party resulting in an unfair dismissal application.

Whilst it is not suggested that employers should by their actions take all the fun, camaraderie and spirit out of genuine party time, the adoption of basic guidelines such as those below go some way to avoiding the unwanted consequences of a workplace Christmas function.

The starting point is that all employers are obliged to maintain a safe workplace as far as practicable for their employees.  Safety at a Christmas function, particularly a party at the office or worksite premises, is the responsibility of every employer.

When liquor in particular is provided by an employer to staff, the responsibility for the appropriate and safe intake of that liquor rests heavily on the employer.  To minimise potential exposure to claims and to benefit the health and welfare of employees, some responsible liquor service practices for Christmas functions and workplace functions in general, that employers should routinely include, are:

  • the contracting, if possible, of the liquor service to professional and trained bar staff;

  • a requirement that whoever serves liquor should ensure that any person who becomes intoxicated is denied access to further liquor at the function;

  • the provision of food, water and non alcoholic beverage at the function;

  • assistance home after the party for any employee not in a fit state to look after themselves;

  • particular attention to juvenile employees to prevent their access to liquor and its consumption; and

  • monitoring of boorish or sleazy employee behaviour or unwanted attention to co-employees as the party progresses.

Responsible liquor practices will in part reduce the potential for litigation arising from an over festive Christmas function.  Such practices are however no substitute for sound management, training of staff and precautionary reminders to staff before a Christmas function of appropriate conduct and protocols at the function.

Should you wish to know more about this topic, please contact either Ian Curlewis, Partner, on 9288 6756 / or Michael Jensen, Senior Associate, on 9288 6944 /

Disclaimer – the information contained in this publication does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. You should seek legal advice in relation to any particular matter you may have before relying or acting on this information. The Lavan team are here to assist.