End of year parties present an occasion for employees and clients to mingle and relax but it is important that employers remain aware of the legal obligations they have. As attendance is considered to be “in the course of employment”, employers are considered legally responsible for their employees behaviour. Inappropriate employee behaviour at a work event may not only reflect badly on the employer’s reputation, but it can also potentially result in serious legal implications.
Some of the risks facing employers as a result of poor employee behaviour at an end of year function include:
• Occupational Health & Safety – Employers have an obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees and other persons at the workplaces and other areas where it has control, such as work-related events.
• Unfair Dismissal – Poor behaviour at a client or staff party can result in disciplinary action, or even termination. Employers should be aware they may face unfair dismissal claims if it is not handled appropriately or in accordance with legislative requirements.
• Discrimination – Discrimination laws expose an employer to liability for employee conduct outside the immediate workplace, as long as there is a “sufficient connection” to the employment or the employee’s duties.
• Sexual Harassment – Any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature which offends, humiliates or intimidates can lead to costly and damaging sexual harassment claims. Common examples of party-situation sexual harassment claims include unwelcome physical contact, leering or persistent and unwelcome invitations.
Employers must be able to demonstrate in these situations that they took reasonable steps to educate and inform their staff about the requirement to maintain reasonable standards of behaviour. It’s ideal to take preventative measures and some of the best strategies for preparing for an event include:
• Implement a specific cut-off point where the work function officially ends.
• Remind everyone of the related policies and rules prior to the event.
• Hire bartenders who are guided by the Responsible Service of Alcohol rules.
• Serve plenty of food and soft drink. Offer taxis or alternative methods for safe transportation home.
If you need information or advice on the legal repercussions that can arise from end of year functions, or for any other employment law matter, please call us on 1300 QUINNS or visit our submit an online enquiry.