While we would love to completely eradicate inappropriate behaviour at staff Christmas parties, unfortunately there is no fool-proof course of action that employers and managers can take to guarantee everything stays above board.

By New Year, we typically see the court news filled with cases that began at the workplace bash – drink driving and other crimes – injuries and, tragically, sometimes, fatalities. Many a personal grievance has also emanated from what should have been a fun time for all celebrating the end of another working year.

Don’t forget, either, as an employer, you can carry liability if problems stem from your work do, and health and safety rules and responsibilities still apply. Many bosses today have even elected not to hold Christmas parties, due to the risks. However, there are several preventative steps that can be taken to lessen and manage the risks associated with putting on a shindig for your team.

So, if you’re planning to treat your staff, here are some of my top tips for mitigating the risk:

1. Clearly brief staff about workplace policy

As the office Christmas party is still a workplace event, an employer should not be remiss in reminding their staff of workplace policy ahead of the event. This can be a brief email outlining company policy on workplace health and safety, staff members’ responsibilities, sexual harassment, drug policies, etc … and that failure to adhere to them could lead to disciplinary action.

2. Choose a daytime function

To minimise or prevent issues that may arise from the consumption of alcohol during a work Christmas party, an alternative option to an evening function is to arrange a variety of alcohol-free activities that can be enjoyed during the daytime. For example, an adventure outing or an "Amazing Race"-type activity.

3. Check the venue for any hazards or risks

Nominate a team member to conduct a risk assessment to ensure the venue is free of any hazards or risks that could cause injuries, even to those who haven’t been drinking.

4. No unlimited bar tab

If alcohol is in the celebratory mix, remember “host responsibility”. Avoid an unlimited bar tab, as people tend to drink more than their fill of alcohol, especially during the festive season and when it’s free. To reduce the possibility of alcohol-related problems, set a fixed bar tab and ensure the waitstaff have been fully briefed about it. Additionally, limit the type of alcohol being served to beer and wine, and provide a variety of food and non-alcoholic beverage options.

5. Have a set start and finish time

Be firm and clear your workplace function is not an all-nighter. Help keep your staff safe – and limit your liability – by clearly specifying a beginning and end time for the function, and ensure alcohol is not served after the nominated finish. If some workers want to continue drinking, that’s their choice, but it will be without the endorsement of the company. That means the employer will not be liable for anything that might happen to them if they continue partying after the designated finish time.

6. Make travel arrangements for staff

To make sure all your workers get home safely after the Christmas party, make travel arrangements for them. This could be providing taxis or shuttles, for example. Even a car pool with a designated, sober driver can be a great idea.

7. Be a role model

As the boss or a manager, either don’t drink, or have a quiet couple. That’s one of the best ways to ensure you, yourself, are not left facing accusations of impropriety, but it also means you’re leading by example, and are also in a fit state to spot, front foot and manage any tricky situations that might arise.

While you cannot completely eliminate the risk of misconduct, or any other unfortunate happenings, at your Christmas party, by properly understanding your responsibilities from the outset, and taking a proactive, sensible approach along the lines of the above, hopefully you’ll at least lessen the risk … without killing all the revelry.

Have a safe and fun-filled Christmas, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.

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