End of year work function legal risks
Time to celebrate but never forget – legal risks are still in place

End of year work function is a great time for your team and business to celebrate success and achievements of the last 12 months.

In the midst of a jolly season, it’s worth remembering though: Your function needs to run as a ‘work’ function without breaching your workplace health and safety obligations, your Human Resources policies and other legal obligations that your business must comply with.

Minimise the Risks

As a business, you should take steps to minimise the risks at your end of year function. Make sure you:

  • educate your employees about the expected standards of behaviour
  • ensure you have key steps in place to prevent undesirable issues emerging during the function, or if they do, to properly manage them to avoid claims and litigation and starting your New Year off with the wrong kind of bang.

If employees become intoxicated at your end of year function or engage in inappropriate or unruly behaviour, your business should have a plan in place to deal with that.

Remember: as the employer, your business can be held vicariously liable for the conduct, or rather misconduct, of your employees even at your off site and outside of normal business hours end of year work function.

It is a good risk management practice to remind your employees of their obligations and, at the same time, still encourage them to celebrate their successes for the year and have a good time. This is a balancing act for everyone attending.

Steps to Prepare Your Business for End of Year Work Function

Before end of year functions

  • Make sure your business has the necessary Human Resources policies in place to address issues that may occur at end of year functions such as a Code of Conduct, workplace bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination.
  • The policies are current, up to date and available to employees.
  • Managers, Supervisors and Team Leaders are aware of and know that they are expected to model your relevant Human Resources policies at your end of year function.
  • Nominate key Managers, Supervisors and Team Leaders to discretely supervise at the function and give them clear authority to act if they see inappropriate or unruly behaviour – for example, arranging to cease serving alcohol to an intoxicated employee or having a discrete discussion with an intoxicated or unruly employee to leave and assist in getting them home safely, e.g. ordering and escorting them to a taxi.
  • Make sure your business sends out a clear email message prior to any end of year work functions to set the expectations of employees regarding their conduct and behaviour at the function
  • Ensure everyone understands that your Human Resources policies still apply at your end of year function and that employees are expected to comply and behave appropriately and within the normal boundaries expected at work whilst they attend end of year functions.
  • Remind about making appropriate arrangements to get home safely at the end of the function.
  • Whilst there is no specific obligation to provide transport home to employees after your end of year function, you should take active steps to minimise the risk of injury to your employees by specifying the clear rules that apply at your function, arranging for their safe travel home, and if anyone requires assistance in getting home, have designated personnel at the function to assist in arranging taxis for employees.
  • Make it clear that any post-function activities or after parties are on an employee’s own time and at their own responsibility.

At the end of year function

  • Set clear start and finish times for your end of year function.
  • Take steps to ensure that there is responsible service and consumption of alcohol and sufficient food and non-alcoholic drinks for employees to enjoy at the function.
  • Place limits on the supply of alcohol if necessary.
  • Ensure your designated Managers, Supervisors and Team Leaders work to prevent excessive drinking and inappropriate or unruly behaviour.
  • Consider using taxis to ensure everyone leaves the function safely and can head home safely after the function.

What if something goes wrong?

  • Act quickly and discretely:
    • If an employee is too intoxicated, send them home in a taxi straight away;
    • If your Managers, Supervisors or Team Leaders become aware of inappropriate or unruly behaviour they should take immediate steps to stop the behaviour.
  • Make sure your Human Resources policies are adhered to carefully. If an investigation needs to be conducted after the end of year function, make sure this occurs.
  • Finalise any investigation and implement any disciplinary action required in accordance with your business procedures.

If you follows the above steps, your business and employees should be able to enjoy a successful and incident-free end of year function.

Importantly, your business can start the New Year off with the right kind of bang!

In the event you need assistance to prepare for your end of year function, or dealing with an incident that occurs, Rouse Lawyers is experienced in providing responsive legal advice to manage such functions, and any incidents and investigations to navigate and minimise the risks to your business.