As we get closer to Christmas and the end of the working year, it is timely to remind businesses of their obligations in respect of hosting work functions.

End of year functions should be fun events, where the employer and workers come together to enjoy themselves and unwind before the end of year break. Unfortunately, these events often give rise to complaints and claims relating to inappropriate behaviour.

The most common types of issues that can arise from end of year functions include harassment complaints (particularly sexual harassment), offensive behaviour or violence, inappropriate comments, and injuries. These issues often arise from the irresponsible service or consumption of alcohol.

To minimise these risks, employers should be mindful of their obligations, and put in place measures to reduce the potential for these incidents.

This may include, but not be limited to: 

  • limiting to the amount of alcohol that is available to employees; 
  • ensuring that there are non-alcoholic drinks and water available; 
  • ensuring adequate food and meals are served; 
  • limiting the availability of spirits or other high-alcohol content drinks; 
  • specifying clear start and finish times for functions, and limiting the duration of the function;
  • nominating a responsible person to oversee behaviour and take appropriate action as required; 
  • arranging for transport to and from work functions; 
  • ensuring that underage employees do not have access to alcohol; 
  • notifying employees either by way of a written communication and/or staff meetings of the expectations and standards required at functions before the event; and 
  • implementing workplace policies (e.g. respectful behaviour) and ensuring that employees are aware of their obligations under these policies.

In the event that there are complaints or incidents of inappropriate behaviour, these should be properly investigated. In some cases, disciplinary action (including termination of employment) may be appropriate.

The Master Builders SA Workplace Relations Team is available to assist members with these matters.

Sam Condon – Director, Workplace Relations

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