December 2004

Our essential end of year quiz for a memorable work Christmas party

Ahead of the festive season and the rounds of client and staff parties, you may want to spend some time answering our short light hearted end of year quiz:

Question 1:

It is a week before your staff end of year party which you spent months organising. It is going to be the best yet! Do you:

  1. Contact the venue and make sure they have plenty of beer, wine and spirits;
  2. Remind staff that it is a work function and tell them they cannot drink and have any fun because the company does not want a law suit;
  3. Remind staff that it is a work function and their obligations to conduct themselves in an appropriate and responsible manner; or
  4. Don't worry, after all you've never had a problem in the past.

Employer Tip 1:

Your client and staff end of year party is a fun time for all. Spending time before the party considering your obligations to avoid sexual harassment and to provide a safe workplace, will ensure the memories of that great party are not tarnished by law suits and large pay outs.

So what are some of your obligations as an employer?

Sexual harassment has been banned in Australia. You must have in place a policy to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, including at your end of year function.

What you need to know about sexual harassment:

  • Sexual harrassment is an unwelcomed sexual advance which a reasonable person would find offensive;

  • Sexual harrassment is unlawful between an employer and employee and also between co- workers;

  • The employer of a worker who commits sexual harassment is jointly liable for the harassment;

  • You can avoid liability if you have taken reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment.

A policy is good but with a bit of alchohol lubricating the staff mix, it is not too hard to imagine people forgetting themselves.

An employer also has obligations to ensure the safety of its staff, not only from sexual harassment but also other behaviour that may be dangerous. Allowing your employees to "get hammered" or "full" on your shout, at your function, could result in danger to their health and safety and a prosecution.

Some simple steps to avoid safety issues at your party include undertaking a risk assessment before the event. You can also monitor the consumption of alcohol, ensure there is plenty of food and provide transport for staff to and from the function. Some parties have 'alcohol and behaviour monitors'. Whatever else happens, as the employer, you have to stay in charge.

The message is: remind everybody of the policy and monitor what happens.

Question 2:

At the end of year party a male manager is tipsy and appears to becoming very friendly and "gropey" with a junior female staff member. Do you:

  1. Grab the manager another beer and join in the fun;
  2. Save the female staff member and "bounce" the manager from the venue;
  3. Save the female staff member and send the manager home in a taxi; or
  4. Have a quiet word to the manager.

Employer Tip 2:

You need to take action rather than ignore the problem. Do not wait and see if he goes too far or a complaint is made.

Not only is the behaviour of the manager out of place but the manager is affected by alcohol. You need to protect the safety of both the female staff member from the manager and the manager from himself. Don't "bounce" the manager out on the street, he may not get home and you may be responsible.

The best response is to take immediate diversionary action at the party, make a few notes, send the drunk home in a taxi and then investigate the matter the next day.

Question 3:

It's the day after the night before and you receive a complaint from the female staff member about being harassed by the manager. Do you:

  • Explain to the staff member that it was just the office party and it was all harmless good fun;
  • Don't investigate the complaint because you saw the complainant running around the function room at the end of the night with her top off;
  • Investigate the complaint;
  • Send an email to all staff reminding them of the behaviour expected of them at next year's party.

Employer Tip 3:

Never ignore a complaint; investigate it in accordance with your grievance policy.

Failure to take action after a complaint is substantiated can be taken as a sign that you do not treat the behaviour seriously. Ignoring a complaint can lead to a number of problems including:

  • the victim bringing a complaint of unfairness as a result of the lack of action; and

  • your delay may come back to bite you when you try to dismiss the manager but you have not dismissed other staff for the same behaviour.

Conclusion

The message is: Have a policy and make sure it is communicated to all your staff ahead of the big night.  It's a work function and work rules apply.  Apply the policy, and if necessary, you can confidently discipline those who sexually harass others or step out of line.