Planning your company’s Christmas party? Key HR considerations.

10 Dec 08:00 by The Monday Group


Planning your company’s Christmas party? After a long and busy year, it’s time to reward your staff with a fun and engaging event where they can let their hair down and enjoy themselves. It’s that simple and straightforward. Or is it?


Too often Christmas parties are arranged, and staff members clown around, get drunk and do things they wouldn’t normally do. Christmas parties are a great opportunity to bring staff together and to position it as a reward and recognition event, communicating upfront in a written format what is expected from all staff members in behaviour and conduct before, during and after the event.


There are some real flow-on benefits around a recognition-focused Christmas event other than togetherness, engagement and connection. By recognising individuals in front of their peers, there is no better way for a staff member to go off on holidays over the Christmas break. It’s also a good chance for management to give its leadership message on how the year has gone and then close out the year from a workplace cultural perspective.


According to leading management think-tank Smart Company, there are some key HR considerations for your awareness when planning your company’s Christmas party. “In the lead up to silly season, refresher training on any relevant code of conduct or other policy like work health and safety, social media, drugs and alcohol, anti-discrimination, anti-sexual harassment or anti-bullying is never a bad idea. Employees should be reminded of the potential disciplinary consequences if an employee’s conduct does not live up to the expected standards”.


Unfortunately, where things can often go pear-shaped are not during your company’s Christmas party but afterwards. Smart Company provide some practical examples of how an employer is obligated to look after the welfare of their staff once their Christmas party has ended. These are as follows:


  • Employers should ensure that employees get home safely.
  • Employers should also ensure that employees who have been issued a company vehicle do not drive the vehicle home if they have been drinking at the event.
  • Employers should make it clear to all employees that any festivities that continue after the Christmas party or other end of year events are not endorsed by the employer and are on the employees’ own time.


According to HRM Canada, beyond the abovementioned considerations, “employers also need to be careful that the functions they host, or sanction do not discriminate against individuals or groups of employees on the bases of their cultures, ethnic backgrounds, faiths, or disabilities. Make sure your event is inclusive and accessible for all employees”. This is sound advice in an Australian context given the typically diverse workforces which exist within the hospitality sector from a racial, cultural, religious and gender identification perspective, for example.


Australian legal firm Slater + Gordon provide some helpful and actionable advice for you to think about when planning your company’s Christmas party:


 “If something goes wrong, employers could end up being sued for sexual harassment or negligence depending on the circumstances or the extent of the actions. As well as the obvious embarrassment that can arise from bad behaviour at the end of year celebrations, employees could be putting their job on the line”.


Importantly, Slater + Gordon go on to say that “there are certainly cases around Australia where workers have been fired because of the way they behaved at their Christmas party. A Christmas party is viewed as a work function so there are clear risks in excessive alcohol consumption. Just because you may have been under the influence, does not excuse comments or actions that would not be acceptable in the workplace”.


According to the Australian Industry (AI) Group, “alcohol combined with a party atmosphere increases the likelihood of an untoward incident occurring even more. Above all else, employee safety should be at the forefront of an employer’s mind. And, if discrimination or harassment occurs at a work function that is organised or sponsored by the employer, then they are very likely to be vicariously liable for such behaviour unless they can demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to reduce, mitigate and manage the conduct”.


The Fair Work Commission, given a plethora of issues relating to company-organised Christmas parties over the last few years, have been required to focus on and adjudicate a broad range of complex HR matters in this area. Applying the common-sense principle when planning, organising and ending your company’s Christmas party will go a long way to ensure that proceedings run smoothly and without risk of fallout from an HR perspective.