The work Christmas party: what are your obligations as an employer?

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It’s finally December, folks! The end to the year that will be universally sent off with a hearty good riddance is almost upon us. But just before we enjoy the slightly silly season, it’s important to remember that the work Christmas party is still work.

It’s all fun and games until someone (is impaled by a cocktail toothpick and) loses an eye.

Here’s a Christmas check list that isn’t related to things that need wrapping or roasting:

  • Is the Christmas party organised by the workplace?
  • Are the people going to the party connected by that workplace (this could be as clients, customers, co-workers, or collaborators)?

If both boxes are ticked, then the work Christmas party is still work. That means that all the same health and safety obligations ordinarily part of the workplace still apply. So, we’re afraid playing Floor is Lava with the bar stools will have to wait for the family shindig instead! It also means ensuring festivities are healthy places for our mental health, and are discrimination and harassment free.

Everyone’s having a great time… except Stephen from accounts.

Believe it or not, a whole room of your colleagues cheering and screaming for a particular team member to get involved in some audience participation isn’t always pleasant for the poor bunny being dragged on stage. A company landed themselves in hot water earlier this year when the only male staff member was heckled and cajoled into dancing with a Kylie Minogue impersonator – complete with leather hotpants. Turns out it isn’t easy to just say “no”, who’d have thunk?! It was more than just a humiliating night at the office, he sued for psychological injury. And the company now has more than a hangover to deal with. 

It’s 2020, do we really need a reminder that the hands to yourself rule is not just for kindergarten?

Sexual assault is not funny. Not now. It wasn’t even funny 30 year ago. For a start, if you’re not overwhelmingly sure that the person you so desperately want to hide behind the pot plant with is into you, DO NOT TOUCH. It’s quite simple really. In Victoria, the approach to consent is that you must have made an effort to know and been assured that your advances are welcomed. 

If there happens to be a power difference between the two of you, then there should be warning bells ringing everywhere. If “yes” really means “yes, because if I say no I may as well not turn up for work on Monday,” then it isn’t really yes, is it.  

Spending the holiday period stressing about legal headaches isn’t on anyone’s Christmas list – including the employer’s(remember that safe workplace you’re responsible for? It doesn’t necessarily stop when the Uber arrives). And before turning that into a joke about who’s on the naughty list this year… keep in mind that sexual harassment is also off the work-function menu.

And that’s only legal perspective! Just because behaviour is legal, doesn’t mean it is free of consequences. Every organisation should have policies and procedures that reflect the kind of respectful relationships co-workers can expect of each other. Setting expectations on appropriate behaviour early often prevents questionable behaviour from the get-go. Having some certainty about the obligations to ensure responsible alcohol service at work functions is a good idea too. If in doubt, make a policy review high on the list of your new year’s resolutions and don’t forget to get in touch with us at for some advice. 

What happens at the work Christmas party, stays at the work Christmas party…

Except it doesn’t. It’s so easy to do. You’re reminiscing over the cringeworthy and hilarious things that happened during the work year with your colleagues, and then explaining the joke to someone’s partner. We’re all friends here, right? It turns out there is no night off rule for your confidentiality obligations.

If you’re organising your work Christmas party and can’t be sure there won’t be shop talk, consider getting some catering in and holding it at a private venue (hospitality staff have ears – and friends and family – too). And nix the dates. Alternatively, everyone needs a night off, and there’s been lots of workplaces infiltrating the dining tables of homes this year, it’s a great chance to thank everyone for making the best of this weird work-from-home experience. But a friendly reminder to enjoy the work night without the work war-stories wouldn’t hurt. 

Covid-safe Christmas parties:

Nothing says festivities like 70% alcohol… hand sanitiser. But that’s the year we’re all having. The Christmas party could be the first time the whole staff have been in the room since March! While the risk of spreading COVID-19 is thankfully pretty low these days, no-one wants to be sharing more than questionable KK presents, so if anyone is a bit crook, send them home! With a bit of luck and some excellent scientific research, we’ll all be back together again next year. 

And finally, before booking the end of year knee’s up, check the restrictions for your location. Each state has their own version of COVID-safe restrictions – make sure you’re on to it (and a head’s up for Vic party-planners – there’s a change due on 13 December).

Most of all, have a wonderful time celebrating the end of this most unusual year.

P.S. Lacey & Co does not endorse playing Floor is Lava on bar stools ever, just to be clear.