Pass the parcel, mind the mistletoe

Press Release – Duncan Cotterill

Pass the parcel, mind the mistletoe Beware festive foolery at workplace parties. Employment law specialists Sarah Townsend and Summer Pringle, of Duncan Cotterill, provide some sage advice. The ‘silly season’ is upon us and festive workplace …6 December 2011

Pass the parcel, mind the mistletoe Beware festive foolery at workplace parties. Employment law specialists Sarah Townsend and Summer Pringle, of Duncan Cotterill, provide some sage advice.

The ‘silly season’ is upon us and festive workplace parties are under way.

Employers often choose to host holiday work parties to boost morale and to reward employees for their efforts over the past year. Despite those good intentions, employers can face liability for employee negligence and misconduct and liability for breaching health and safety legislation, even if the party is held off-site.

Employees can also face issues if their behaviour at a work party has been unacceptable. Those issues can often hurt employees’ careers and even earn them dismissal.

While there are many holiday work party considerations for both employers and employees, we’ve put together our top five to assist you this season.

The top five considerations for employers when hosting a holiday work party:

1. Ensure you have identified significant health and safety hazards and have planned strategies to manage them. 2. If you are serving alcohol, providing plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages can reduce the risk of inappropriate or alcohol-fuelled behaviour. 3. While it is important to encourage everyone to have a good time, employees shouldstill 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. 4. Having a sober supervisor present can help to ensure everyone’s safety. Giving the sober supervisor some guidance as to what to do in common situations would also be helpful. 5. NEVER hang mistletoe (yep, we’re not kidding). The top five considerations for employees when attending a holiday work party:

1. 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. 2. 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. 3. Making an effort to talk to a few colleagues or supervisors 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. 4. Holiday work parties are an extension of the business. Dressing appropriately is important ,even if you are wearing something festive or themed. 5. NEVER go anywhere near the mistletoe (yep, we’re not kidding). Taking action on the above considerations will mean that employers can hear the sound of reindeer on the roof and are less likely to hear the sound of post-holiday party litigationapproaching. And employees will be better placed to return to their duties after the holidays, if bad behaviour is not hanging over their heads.

Even where an employer and employee take precautions, things do happen – a sober employee can fracture her arm after tripping over Christmas decorations hazardously laid around the dance floor in a poorly lit room or an employee who has had too much to drink may say something offensive to his supervisor. When things do happen, the prudent approach is to take legal advice, because getting it wrong can be costly.

• Sarah Townsend is an associate in the national and trans-Tasman employment law team of Duncan Cotterill.

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