Usually the work Christmas party is a time to let your hair down and celebrate the year that was. However, because it’s a less formal event and more likely than not there is alcohol involved, issues that would usually never arise during work hours, appear at the work Christmas party. Unfortunately, they can be a source for poor workplace behaviour such as bullying, harassment, sexual harassment discrimination and work health and safety incidents. From a HR and employment law perspective, it also raises some challenges as the line between work and out of hours conduct can become blurred.
Generally, Council’s will have a Code of Conduct and other policies that apply to their staff’s employment. This Code of Conduct and Policies can also apply to an employee’s conduct at work related functions. In the event that your conduct at the party is at odds with a workplace policy, you may face disciplinary action. That’s what happened in the case of Vai v ALDI, a case that went through the Federal workplace relations system.
In this case, ALDI put on an all-expenses paid (including alcohol) Christmas party. Mr Vai decided to make merry and drank a significant amount of alcohol – before and during the party. He was subsequently cut off by bar staff. In his unfit state, Mr Vai threw a full glass of beer in the direction of a security guard and over the heads of some of his fellow colleagues. Aldi considered this incident to be very serious and Mr Vai was dismissed because of his conduct.
Mr Vai then bought an unfair dismissal application against his employer seeking compensation. Mr Vai argued that he could not remember the incident, that the dismissal was out of proportion considering the nature of his conduct and that the event could not be considered an official ALDI function as no Managers were present. ALDI argued that they had taken appropriate measures, such as restricting the service of alcohol and providing security guards. Their Code of Conduct was also not confined in its scope and extended to work functions outside of the workplace. Considering that seriousness of Mr Vai’s conduct, and that the conduct had the potential to cause physical harm to others the Commission found that his dismissal was justified.
So, a key take away from this case - enjoy your staff party, but do so responsibly.
If you are part of the Christmas party planning committee, here are some handy tips to consider:
Before the party:
- Review the policies you have in place. We recommend that you check there is a statement contained within that specifically covers employee behaviour at workplace social functions.
- Ensure that staff are aware of and have received training around appropriate workplace behaviour and relevant policies.
- If serving alcohol – ensure it will be served in accordance with RSA Regulations, provide food and non-alcoholic beverages and have other activities.
- Appoint a responsible person (preferably a senior Manager) who will keep an eye on things.
- Communicate the start and end time of the function. We recommend that there is a clear distinction as to when the event is no longer regarded as a work-related function.
- Advise staff they should make necessary travel arrangements to get home safely at the end of the event. Provide information regarding rideshare options or provide public transport timetables.
On a final note – have fun and may you make it through your Christmas party without a visit to HR.