Booze, sex and social media – what employers need to watch at the Christmas party

Experts warn alcohol, sexual harassment and Twitter are the three things employers need to be keeping a watchful eye on during the season of corporate Christmas festivities.

Experts say that as employees start to relax and prepare themselves for a night of revelry at the annual Christmas do, employers need to ensure their reputation remains intact and they don’t expose themselves to unnecessary embarrassment and possible legal action.

Thomas Tudehope, director of strategy and engagement and reputation management group SR7, says more people will have access to social networking on their mobiles this year – and that both employees and employers need to be watchful.

“With so many people on Twitter, and being the fastest growing social networking site, there is a lot of risk around tweeting “loosely”, sharing embarrassing events and so on. And they’ll have what I call a technological hangover the next day,” he says.

Tudehope says this relates to the way employers are advocating the use of social media, and how that is handled in the workplace. He says that some policy should extend to the work Christmas function as well.

“My recommendation would be to just log out of Facebook, log out of Twitter, and just exert caution about what personal information they are sharing. Particularly when they are drinking and in a different state of mind.”

“There are plenty of journalists that trawl through social media sites, and they can find things very quickly.”

While he says that employees shouldn’t have to turn off their phones completely, and that employers shouldn’t have to resort to actually banning smartphones from the Christmas party, he says a friendly reminder wouldn’t go astray.

“I’m not advocating that people turn off their phones, but exert some caution. Think about things like posting pictures, mentioning your boss, and so on. There are dangers around that and could cause embarrassment later on.”

Workplace legal expert Peter Vitale says there are a few serious issues that employers need to keep in mind. He warns that for legal purposes, the Christmas party is seen as an extension of the workplace, and that the same obligations and laws apply.

“Employers need to make sure that everyone is in a safe environment, and where there is serving of alcohol there are responsibilities around that as well. So you also need to make sure that you are serving alternatives such as plenty of non-alcohol drinks, soft drinks, and so on.”

“You would also need to make sure that responsible service is being practiced, so if someone goes and overdoes it they won’t get served.”

Vitale also says bosses need to be on the lookout for any sign of sexual harassment – a topic on many employers’ minds following the David Jones scandal. Vitale says employees need to understand that workplace policies will still apply.

“This is a fertile ground for harassment claims, particularly this year, and employers need to make sure that employees are fully aware before the function that this behaviour will not be tolerated.”

“Workplace policies still apply at the function, and that applies to employees who breach these guidelines as well. There are plenty of cases in this area that show employers really need to take responsibility for the behaviour of their employees in this arena.”

But the Christmas party isn’t meant to be a totally serious affair. Business coach Dennis Roberts says employers who choose to give a speech should focus on the past year, rather than the workload ahead, and thank their employees for the effort they’ve put in.

“In my point of view the Christmas party speech is a retrospective thing. You’re looking backwards, a celebration of the past, and you need to remember to thank everyone for their contribution.”

“The speech isn’t a political forum, it’s not a time where you say, “we were lucky to survive this year!” It should be a light celebration and thanks for the contribution your employees have given.”

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