It’s that time of year – tinsel is being decked around the office, KK gifts are being exchanged, and someone’s filming Gary from accounts doing Sambuca shots on a mechanical bull at the work Christmas party.
In a year that saw a compensation claim for a Christmas party potato sack race, a case involving a king hit on a Christmas party cruise, a sexual harassment claim arising when an employee groped someone’s breast at the Christmas function, and even a death at a work Christmas picnic, it’s clear Christmas functions can be a minefield for employers.
With smartphones more ubiquitous than ever, employers are now also often faced with a documentary record of all the incidents, according to workplace specialist Will Snow from law firm Finlaysons.
Snow has seen a number of incidents come out of work Christmas parties – including one involving footage of an employee drunkenly riding a mechanical bull – and says alcohol and smartphones are a bad match for employers.
“The genie is out of the bottle now with smartphones,” Snow told SmartCompany.
“People are inevitably going to take photos, let alone video, so you have a documentary record of exactly how bad things might have gotten.”
Snow says some of the most common scenarios at office functions include drinking too much and abusing the boss or other staff, harassing a colleague, safety issues or taking photos which are bad for a business’ reputation.
SmartCompany takes a look at five top tips to save you from a Christmas-party headache – not related to the champagne.
1. Keep employee and manager training up-to-date
Employers and management need to know when to call it a night – literally.
Snow says employers need to define where the Christmas party ends and where staff’s personal choice to “kick on” kicks in.
“At a work related-event, when they’re putting on the show, employers are responsible for everything,” he says. “The line gets blurry when a manager goes out for drink afterwards with the company credit card.”
Snow says at the end of a work function, employers should encourage staff to safely head home, rather than hit the town for an after party. He suggests considering providing cab charge vouchers to staff.
Snow recommends sending a short email to management to remind them about this, as well as about policies for social media use at work and outside work, before the big day.
2. Manage the flow of alcohol
Snow admits employers are responsible for “putting on a show” for staff and restricting alcohol completely is probably impractical.
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“People want to have drinks,” he says. “But there’s a way to manage it.”
He recommends serving only wine and beer, and not spirits, which are “a real risk.” He also suggests serving substantial food and soft drink, and cutting off the booze at an acceptable time.
3. Take down any offending social media pictures and posts
While Snow says a total social media ban at work functions is impractical, it is a good idea to be aware of and manage any potential risks that might damage the reputation of the business.
“People have a few drinks and they let their guard down. The problem with technology and, especially phones, is that it all gets recorded.”
Snow says he has seen issues where staff refuse to delete pictures after being asked to by their co-workers, so he suggests it’s a good idea to have a grievance process that employees can follow in such circumstances.
“These are the issues that lead to workplace conflict,” he says.
4. Treat complaints seriously
Snow says employers should treat complaints arising out of work parties through proper processes and take immediate and appropriate action.
“When things get serious and issues are raised, you’ve got to assist to resolve the complaints,” he says.
He says every workplace needs to have the expectations clearly communicated to staff members, because while people are always responsible for their own behaviour, workplace laws will often implicate the employers.
5. Manage the rumour mill
“You can’t stop gossip, but when it’s unlawful or inappropriate, you have to step in and try to understand what happened and ask, ‘am I exposed to a risk?’” Snow says.
He says while managing the rumour mill is hard with social media, when a person makes an allegation after an event, it is an employer’s duty to keep it confidential and instigate an investigation in line with your office policies and OH&S laws.