As the year draws to a close, many organisations will be gearing up for their staff Christmas parties, a much needed break for all concerned and a chance for employees to get together on a social level.

But while everyone is entitled to enjoy the season employers need to remain vigilant when it comes to staff safety.

“Ensuring safety at Christmas parties is essential,” says Christie Solway, EML Risk Management Specialist. "Responsibility for safety may extend outside the office."

Due to the nature of the event, Christmas parties come with increased risk both at the function and after people leave.  

There’s the usual safety risks of physical injury, resulting from slips, trips and falls, but the change of atmosphere, while generally more relaxed and fun, can also bring an increased risk of social issues.

“The change of environment from work-based to party-based and the frequent addition of alcohol can create risks such as unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate comments or jokes that aren’t perceived as jokes,” says Ms Solway.

These sorts of situations can lead to claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying.

“Any inappropriate behaviour should be managed in the same way it would in the workplace,” says Ms Solway.

Those demonstrating behaviour that crosses the line should be spoken to immediately so the behaviour can be stopped.

If allegations of inappropriate behaviour are made after the event, whether that be allegations on social media or formal complaints following the event, these should be taken seriously and investigated in the same way as an alleged incident that has occurred in the workplace.

While most Christmas parties are limited to employees, some include invitations to valued clients, so additional precautions should be taken to help safeguard your guests’ safety.

To ensure Christmas parties remain fun and incident free, Ms Solway suggests the following actions.

  • Send out a reminder e-mail to staff outlining expected behaviour at staff Christmas parties to prevent cases of bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination and to remind employees of their need to safeguard their own safety and that of their colleagues.
  • Clearly define the parameters of the function (including a finish time) and actively discourage staff to continue on to other locations to continue partying after the function finishes.
  • Make sure food is provided and that people keep an eye on staff to ensure they don’t drink to excess.
  • Provide non-alcoholic drinks that are as appealing as the alcoholic versions.
  • Designate someone (who is not drinking) to oversee the event to ensure behaviour does not get out of control and the event runs smoothly.
  • Do not continue to serve drinks to someone who appears drunk.
  • Advise people of transport options to/from the venue and remind them to plan for their safe travel home.
  • Remind managers that they are role models and should therefore set a good example by not drinking to excess and ensuring they behave appropriately and encourage the same in others.