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Office parties: How to avoid a nightmare before Christmas

How do you measure a successful office Christmas party? Is it if it comes under budget? Is it if everyone has a good time? Or, is it if no-one is caught with their pants down?

Have you heard the office Christmas party carol? It goes like this:

On the sixth day of Christmas, HR said to me,

Brad kissed Amanda!”

“Tony tripped and fell!”

“Susan’s gonna sue!”

“Drew got drunk!”

“Steve slandered Sam!”

“And a partridge in a pear tree… is all we’ll have left once all these claims have been finalised!”

There is a lot to gain from a well-run office Christmas party. It allows staff a chance to celebrate and be recognised for their achievements over the past year. It may be the only time that people see one another outside of the office environment. Morale and productivity may increase if a business is seen to care about its workers and their wellbeing. On a more fundamental level, it gives staff the opportunity to unwind and enjoy themselves before the Christmas holidays.

Unfortunately, many organisations find themselves overrun the following January, with claims arising from the previous month’s Christmas festivities. These can include sexual harassment, workplace injuries, physical assaults and dismissals due to drunken behaviour – just to name a few. What can you do to ensure your Christmas parties (not to mention other work functions) avoid any “egg nog” disasters?

  1. Plan ahead. A failure to plan is a plan to fail. When organising your office Christmas party there’s a few things to consider. Who will be accountable for the responsible service of alcohol and general safety at the event? Who is in charge if something goes wrong? Is the function going to be held in a private location or in a place where staff will be mixing with the general public?
  2. Equip staff. As nice as it is to assume that everyone will naturally do the right thing, there is always at least one person who just doesn’t seem to want to behave themselves. You can help these people by ensuring everyone is trained in appropriate workplace behaviour, and in their responsibilities and obligations at work functions. Having a robust social media policy is also vital, to ensure people aren’t posting “hilarious” photos of staff members behaving badly. #christmaspartyfail
  3. Be safe. Avoid unnecessary risks, like booking a remote venue with no easy way for people to get home, or planning physical activities during a party which might cause injuries. Ensure the party has a firm finishing time which is not too late. Ask certain senior individuals to avoid alcohol, so they can keep a sober eye on everything and take action as necessary — an office Christmas party needs its “party mums” and “party dads”!

Hopefully, if you follow the above suggestions, there will be more laughs than litigation arising from the night’s proceedings (if you want tips on how to having a great office Christmas, see our guide).

We wish our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Safe New Year!

Aaron Goonrey is a Partner and Luke Scandrett is a Lawyer in Lander & Rogers’ Workplace Relations & Safety practice.

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