Are your ready for a risk-free Christmas office party?
Staff are working from home, and Covid-rules remain in place, so what will this year’s office Christmas party look like? How can you whip up some much-needed Christmas spirit without falling foul of the regulations?
Obviously there will be Covid precautions and social distancing to observe at any work get-together.
But there are ongoing risks such as injury lawsuits from drunken employee revelry, Gold Coast compensation law expert Bruce Simmonds warns.
Simmonds, litigation director, Parker Simmonds Solicitors & Lawyers, reminds employers that any workplace Christmas party for 2020 needs to be carefully managed to avoid potential post-party claims from staff.
“Some times there are cases where what might start as office revelry can, if fuelled by too much alcohol, turn into stupid antics or even fistfights as tempers boil over.
“Either way, what starts as a Christmas or end of year party can end in compensation claims or even criminal charges,” he says.
It’s crucial for employers to remember that however relaxed the event and the party-goers, the legal employment relationship remains in place between staff and the employer, he adds.
“Contractors and workers can still claim under personal injury legislation against the business or manager. Employers seem to forget that workplace laws still apply at workplace functions organised by employers, such as Christmas parties.
“This means if an employee is injured at the party they could claim it was work-related especially if the employer hosted the event and provided the alcohol.
“Employers and employees have responsibilities about Christmas partying. If they are celebrating within a workplace environment, there is the risk for things to get out of control. Alcohol often changes people’s personalities and suppressed workplace disputes can spill over into public,” he says.
Simmonds cautions employers that if a worker was injured at an “official” work event, or even on their way home, a WorkCover claim for the injury could affect the employer’s premiums
“This is not about spoiling the office Christmas party, just having some common sense precautions to prevent disaster.
“A $1000 Christmas party could cost six figures in legal actions if the party gets out of hand,” he says.
Simmonds says employers and party organisers should strive to keep the Christmas party free of any workplace disputes. Alcohol can heighten office feuds and lead to sexual harrassment claims.
“Alcohol causes most of the problems at work Christmas functions so maybe rather than a booze-up, businesses could instead, maybe arrange a staff Christmas barbecue or similar family-themed event. Or replace alcohol with chocolates and Christmas hams for staff families.
“Organising taxis or Ubers to get staff home is a positive step too, to prevent staff drink-driving.
“The state’s WorkCover workers’ compensation scheme means managers or bosses may not be insured for any injuries or harassment that might occur at a work Christmas party, and could personally be liable for any claims,” Simmonds warns.