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Be merry – safely

02 Dec 2016

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By Ben King, Aspiring Law Staff Solicitor

‘Tis the season to be jolly – but not too jolly, when it comes to celebrations at the workplace.

Odds on, every year, we see everything from eyebrow-raising to tragic headlines from the lead-up to the Christmas holiday season … situations that never needed to have happened.

First and foremost, don’t forget, amid the merriment, the reduced drink drive limit. Check out Hospitality New Zealand’s site to see its advice – note: they do not recommend consuming alcohol and driving, but offer a “rule of thumb” guide – read: not definitive – if you do.

The traditional Christmas workplace bash is quite the Kiwi tradition, but remember tightening health and safety laws still apply, even amongst the revelry.

If you’re an employer, make sure you’ve done everything possible to make it a safe occasion. If you’re throwing an on-site party, ensure your health and safety compliance officer has prepared the “party zone” so it’s hazard-free.

In the lead-up to Christmas, expecting all staff to studiously pore over your company’s workplace policies might be a bit of a stretch. It’s a good idea to provide staff a verbal briefing to run over what’s on … and what’s not.

No-one wants to be The Party Pooper, but sometimes common sense gets lost in the cheer. Some reminders you might want to convey to staff:

Alcohol – remind them of drink-drive laws, and maybe even look at providing either taxi chits or a shuttle to get everyone home safely. Be very clear with staff gross intoxication can’t be tolerated. Provide loads of food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Inappropriate behaviour – it seems like a no-brainer, however, at the end of a frazzled year, common sense can get tangled in the tinsel. If you know of any tensions between staff, consider speaking to them beforehand, and keep an eye on things during the course of the function. You don’t want the Christmas party turning into Co-Worker Fight Club. Remember, the threat of physical violence or actual physical violence is usually classed as assault, or, sometimes, even worse. Do what you can to warn staff, and keep things agro-free. It may be Christmas, it may be curtains on a long year, you may have had a few too many – but that doesn’t make sexual harassment in any way acceptable. No-one has the right to get “over-friendly” with anyone from the office, touch them inappropriately, or make any other unwanted advances. Staff and bosses should keep firmly in mind, too, even if it’s consensual, you wouldn’t be the first to have your exploits videoed and find yourself the latest viral sensation on the Internet.

Religious discrimination – remember, too, we’ve become a melting pot of different religions, faiths and customs. Not everyone does the “traditional Kiwi Christmas”. Be sure to acknowledge that, and include everyone in the treats and celebrations in a way that respects them.

Whatever you’re doing by way of workplace celebrations, keep things safe and sensible, be tolerant and respectful of others – and don’t forget to have a great time and look out for each other.

Last updated 2 December 2016

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