Employers

Christmas Season Legal Responsibilities

Tindall Gask Bentley partner Amber Sprague says both employers and their staff should be aware of their legal responsibilities, as they enter the party period of the year.

Tindall Gask Bentley partner Amber Sprague says both employers and their staff should be aware of their legal responsibilities, as they enter the party period of the year.

Ms Sprague, who specialises in employment law, has seen injury, workers compensation and sexual harassment claims rise from Christmas function incidents.

She said many people forget that the same workplace rules apply, even outside of the office.

“You can’t have one set of rules for the work place and no rules for the Christmas party,” Ms Sprague said.

“Employers always owe a duty of care to their employees, and that extends to parties and functions.

“To an extent there is an added responsibility, because more often than not alcohol is involved.”

Ms Sprague said staff who were injured while partying may qualify for workers compensation.

“The legislation specifically refers to attendance at social events, organised by the employer,” Ms Sprague said.

“It could certainly be argued that a Christmas party is part of the job, as employees are more often than not encouraged to attend.

“Employers must provide as safe an environment as possible, and promote responsible behavior, to try and avoid the possibility of injuries occurring.”

But workers, not just employers, are still accountable.

“There is also a provision for misconduct under the workers compensation legislation, which effectively means that if an employee has voluntarily consumed an excessive amount of alcohol and is under the influence, then that might exclude the individual from entitlements,” Ms Sprague said.

“The alcohol component makes it even more important for people to remember that these are still work colleagues, and that sexual harassment is not acceptable whether it is in the office or at a work party.

“It can lead to workers compensation claims, relationship breakdowns and even loss of employment.”

Ms Sprague said employers should set clear boundaries and plan ahead.

“Many organisations provide cab charges to and from the venue, or alternative transport, to try and eliminate the risk of drink driving.

“Sensible employers should also warn employees about behavior expectations, and that party rules should be the same as in the workplace.

“Taking steps to consider these responsibilities ensures that a safe environment is provided and everyone can enjoy their end of year celebrations.”

For further information or assistance with your legal matter contact your nearest TGB office.