Cup day blues: Legal expert warns businesses to get their work policies in order

With Melbourne Cup day only a few days away, employers and employees alike are looking forward to letting their hair down and ringing in the start of the holiday season by having a few drinks – and maybe a cheeky punt or two.

But don’t get too happy. Legal experts say you need to have all the right policies in place before Tuesday hits so you don’t get caught up in any scandals.

“This day always marks the start of the silly season, and by virtue of that it presents one of the riskiest days as well,” says People + Culture Strategies partner Joydeep Hor.

Staff getting drunk at work, inappropriate sexual advances, and people just not showing up at all after lunch – these are some of the issues workplaces have to face next week.

Hor says it doesn’t matter whether you decide to have a half-day or not: you need to set expectations for all staff so there’s no disappointment or confusion come Tuesday.

“One of the things I’ve always found interesting is that assumptions are made by staff, and there’s a lack of clear articulation of what is expected of people on this particular day,” he says.

For instance, workplaces regularly enjoy some drinks on Cup Day afternoon. Hor says you need to set boundaries – are staff allowed to drink at work? Can they only drink after lunch? How many drinks will be allowed? Are workers allowed to bring their own?

“It’s just very simple things,” he says.

“Also, if staff are going out to lunch, is there an assumption they don’t have to come back? And is that wrong? You need to address that and just maintain some clear guidelines.”

Hor also says this shouldn’t be left to individual managers, as it can lead to a culture where staff only want to work for a leader who allows some drinking at work, or allows staff to go home early.

“And that’s just one example,” he says.

“There are plenty of complications regarding the consumption of alcohol and the risk of inappropriate behaviour, the disclosure of corporate information.”

Such risks suggest staff may be better off leaving after lunch. But as Hor says, it really depends on the make-up of your culture.

This also becomes a problem when you consider that some staff won’t want to be involved at all.

“Some people just have no interest in the day, and prefer to get their work done. That needs to be kept in mind as well.”

The solution isn’t difficult, Hor says. Just spend some time crafting guidelines for all staff about whether or not they should come back to work, whether alcohol can be consumed, and any other related topics you may think of.

As Hor pointed out last year, it’s good to keep in mind that when staff are having a good time with some drinks, posting on social media may become a risk.

“There needs to be clear delineation. And hopefully, most of these topics will be included in your work policy documents anyway.”



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