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27 Nov 2017

Workplace Christmas party fails are the stuff of legend (and blockbuster hits) – but also some not-so-funny litigation. Which begs the question: what happens when drunken antics become an empty desk?

The Fair Work Act (2010) makes it unlawful to terminate employees in a harsh, unjust, or unreasonable manner. But does this apply to misconduct during the work event?

The distinction is somewhat of a legally fine one and is largely based on whether the employer is in control of, liable or responsible for the safety and wellbeing of an employee at the time misconduct occurs. Rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of the legal nuances surrounding these decisions, I’d rather give the readers some tips.

So, for all the employers out there – particularly those planning Christmas do’s – here are some tips for surviving the silly parts of the season.

  1. Remember you have a duty of care to your employees at any work related event.
  2. Clearly outline the start and finish times for the function and be sure to include a statement about expectations of acceptable behaviour and personal responsibility.
  3. Do not rely solely on a venue’s undertaking to adhere to responsible service of alcohol requirements. Ensure you monitor employee alcohol consumption as well. The event itself is your responsibility to manage.
  4. Have strategies in place for monitoring employee behaviour at work functions, including what immediate action may be taken to respond to unsafe or unacceptable conduct (e.g. call a taxi and/or direct an employee to leave).
  5. Do not assume that clearly offensive behaviour at a work function necessarily warrants dismissal. It is important to give careful consideration to all of the surrounding circumstances, make no proclamations about whether the person is fired in the heat of the moment.
  6. If an employee misbehaves, seek early legal advice about how to conduct an effective investigation and ensure your disciplinary process results in a decision that cannot be successfully challenged.

This is general information only and does not constitute specific legal advice. If you would like further information in relation to this matter or other legal matters, please contact HHG Legal Group’s Albany office on 9481 2322.