Christmas office party sexual harassment, misadventure, injury or worse!

Christmas office party overindulgences can quickly turn from good clean fun to breaches in drug and alcohol policies (not to mention the law) and changes in behaviours ranging from offensive language and bullying to sexual harassment and misadventures that can result in injury.

I appreciate this all sounds a bit ‘bah-humbug’, but there’s a serious legal side to office parties and matters relating to holiday shutdowns that all employers and executive managers need to know about.

As the holiday period draws nearer, it’s customary for employers and executive managers to reward their teams with time off and some well-earned festive cheer.

While on the surface it sounds fairly straight forward, there are important workplace issues that need to be considered carefully.

Among them, forced office closures.

Shutting down over the Christmas period doesn’t make everyone happy.

In fact, many employees are very unhappy about taking holiday leave when they don’t want to and especially if they don’t have holiday leave entitlements to take.

Ideally end of year office closures are considered as part of the relevant Award or an employment or contractor agreement.

Most Awards require notice to be given and that notice period is usually 4 weeks.

Alternatively, the notice under the Agreement should be given, and if there is no Agreement or it is silent, employers should give ‘reasonable’ notice.

If you have plans to close your office this year, then you’ll need to give notice to your employees NOW.

Despite your best of intentions to reward staff by shouting them a meal and a few drinks, Christmas parties can quickly get out of hand if the event is not carefully planned and expectations of acceptable behaviour conveyed.

Even a little overindulgence can result in a lot of damage to life and limb, property and reputations for individuals and your business name.

No one wants a PR disaster or costly legal action over a Christmas party incident.

Of course, there will be plenty of photo opportunities at your Christmas function and these will inevitably find their way to social media.

Privacy and probity must be observed and whoever manages your social media channels needs to be on hand to delete or hide unacceptable posts to your company accounts.

Next steps
As already mentioned, if you intend to implement a forced office closure, you need to notify your staff now to comply with a 4-week notice period.

If an office party has been arranged, now is the time to circulate your policies relating to acceptable office behaviours that include office functions.

Prior to any party, staff should be advised of the starting and end times and arrangements to be made which allow everyone to get safely home. It is also a good idea to have one senior staff member or a director to stay sober and be the responsible person for the party.

If you do not have policies in place, my recommendation is to address this immediately while you still have time for your workplace relations legal advisor to draft and implement them.

If you receive a complaint or report from a customer or client, an employee or any third party regarding an employee’s behaviour, as their employer you need to act quickly. And this usually involves accessing legal advice without delay.

In my experience, especially in matters of workplace relations, failing to act promptly (such as leaving a complaint until you return to work in the new year) or to act at all, will very likely result in the matter escalating to become a far greater issue requiring a longer and more expensive legal process to resolve.

For legal advice and support for business leaders please call +61 (0) 7 3007 2080 or email

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Executive Strategies is a specialised information hub for executives and senior managers who may have founded their own business or who work for growing private, ASX listed companies or government businesses. Its purpose is to provide access to specialist advisers and information that addresses the often-complex issues affecting their personal prosperity.

The information in this article is intended only to provide a general overview and has not been prepared with a view to any particular situation or set of circumstances. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute legal advice. While we attempt to ensure the information is current and accurate, we do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the information in this blog as it may not be appropriate for your individual circumstances.


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