Tips to minimise and manage risk at your work Christmas party

Planning for your business staff Christmas party may be well underway. However, one area of paramount importance, yet often overlooked, is managing the risks involved.

Check out our tips to minimise and manage the risks involved in your work Christmas function. They’re your guide to a risk assessment. And they won’t turn you into the Christmas Grinch, we promise.

How safe is the venue?

Your company’s Christmas party is a work event, which means employers still have a duty of care to ensure workplace health and safety. Go for a private venue because the venue with another company adds an uncontrollable element.

As an example, when two separate companies held their Christmas events on the same boat some years ago, attendees soon realised one was a family-friendly function and the other wasn’t. Someone at the family event asked members of the rowdy event to stop swearing in front of children, but was kicked in the back of their head, suffering severe injuries. While the employer had a duty of care for work related functions, the Court held in this case that the employer did not breach that duty.

Set boundaries for alcohol

Forewarn staff via email and verbally to be clear on your expectations about behaviour and consumption. They’ll have to abide by your code of conduct, and other policies, including sexual harassment and social media policies. Refresh your staff on what constitutes sexual harassment and bullying, the sanctions that apply as well as how to report it. Tell them verbally and in writing.

Tell them alcohol won’t be served to staff who are intoxicated and they’ll need to leave the event. Nominate at least one manager to stay sober to supervise the party. They should deal with intoxicated guests as well as demonstrate being a role model for junior staff.

Rather than a ‘help yourself’ approach to drinks at the staff party, manage it by delegating to professional bar staff, trained in the responsible service of alcohol. And make sure staff aged under 18 aren’t served alcohol. Offer non-alcoholic alternatives for all attendees and definitely food.

Be clear when the event will finish

Communicate to staff ahead of time about the time the party will end and stick to it. Discourage staff planning ‘after parties’, saying should they occur, your company isn’t the organiser and does not condone them.

Offer safe travel options

Consider how accessible the venue is to get to (and from) as well as move around in. Also check if there are ramps, lifts, and accessible toilets available in case you have people with mobility issues.

Be a step ahead and help staff sort out transport with carpooling, ridesharing, or supplying a courtesy bus to reduce the risks of staff drinking and driving. Check in with staff to remind them of the options and ascertain their transport plans.

Managing the aftermath

Think about when your event is done and dusted what you may have to deal with. That could include incidents, accidents, complaints (including about unwanted photographs), absences, or even worse, a staff member showing up for work the next day while hungover or still intoxicated.

Do you have policies and processes to deal with these possibilities and are staff advised? Are your workers aware of what behaviour could lead to their dismissal? Be sure to investigate and address incidents promptly, not after the Christmas break. Not acknowledging and working on those issues immediately could prompt disgruntled victims to seek a solution elsewhere, such as via a legal claim.

Staff taking sick leave the day after the event will need a medical certificate. If their irresponsible consumption of alcohol at the party was to blame, you may discuss disciplinary action with them on their return.

And keep up to date with public health orders for COVID-19. You might recall last year the then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo contracted the virus after holding an indoor Christmas party against a health official’s advice. Pay attention to the public health orders in your state or territory.

Bonus risk management tips

One risk you might not know is missing out on tax deductions for holding a staff Christmas party – you can find out more about your entitlements here.

Another risk minimisation strategy is to ensure your insurance coverage has no gaps, which could leave your business unprotected. We can review your public liability and management liability policies, for example. That approach and the above risk management tips will help steer you towards your well-earned Christmas cheer.