A tick and flick guide to meeting employer and individual obligations during the social season

By Andrew Tobin / 12 December 2016
5 min.
Worthwhile read for: Employers, Employees

Following on from our recent article that addressed Christmas parties from an insurance and employment point of view, below is a quick review of employer and individual health and safety obligations that arise during the festive season…

A tick and flick guide to meeting employer and individual obligations during the social season

Generally speaking, the social season tends to bring an increase in the number of workplace injuries and illnesses incurred by employees. So company directors, officers and managers, and all employers and principals need to be mindful as to the duties they owe to their employees or contractors during the festive social season.

Under relevant workplace health and safety legislation in Australia1, employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking must do what is reasonably practicable to ensure the safety and health of employees in the workplace.

However, with Christmas parties and end of year celebrations in abundance, employers and other stakeholders must be aware that the broad definition of “workplace” under the relevant work health and safety legislation can, in certain circumstances, be extended to the hosting of a Christmas party or other social function where staff and/or clients are in attendance.

Importantly, the concept of being “at work” can be extended to situations where employees are attending functions that, but for their employment, they would not otherwise be attending.

Meeting work health and safety obligations whilst at social functions – practical tips

Although the obligation on each employer is to do what is “reasonably practicable” in their individual circumstances, and so, each approach to the work Christmas party will undoubtedly be different, we have put together some common tips and recommendations to assist employers and others in meeting their duties in a health and safety context:

1. Define the boundaries

Employers should, at the earliest possible opportunity, define the parameters of the event by identifying the venue at which the event is to take place, and the start and finish times for the event. In doing so, the employer will help set the limitations on the extent of its liability.

2. Provide appropriate food and drinks

Whilst it is perfectly acceptable to provide alcoholic beverages, employers should take care to ensure there are sufficient non-alcoholic beverages and food to ensure the event remains “social” and not “silly”.

Similarly, wherever possible, the service of alcoholic beverages should be undertaken by appropriately trained bar staff and there should be a set time in which the service of alcohol ceases.

3. Provide appropriate means of travelling home

At the conclusion of the event, ensure that attendees have appropriate means to be transported home. If there are no means of transportation that are easily accessible, such as a taxi rank or, depending on the time that the event finishes, public transport, consider organising a bus or group vehicles with a skipper to assist in the journey home.

Remember that driving under the influence of alcohol is not the only hazard employees may face during the journey home. Consider the personal security of your employees when advising of safe means of transportation.

4. Remind staff and provide training with respect to applicable internal policies and procedures

In the days or weeks leading up to the event, ensure that all staff are aware of the organisation’s expectations as to their behaviour at the event. Provide training and information with respect to internal policies, procedures or guidelines, regarding alcohol consumption, bullying, harassment, health and safety etc.

5. Conduct a risk assessment

Spend some time at the venue and conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify and implement controls with respect to any hazards identified in the process.

Some final reminders

Here are a few final reminders that, if taken on board, can go a long way in meeting your health and safety obligations during your social functions:

  1. Consider carefully whether to arrange for staff to “carry on” after the official finish time for the event – although it might seem appealing to continue to another bar or club after the official event is complete, if employees are gathering immediately after a work event, there is a strong possibility that the definition of “workplace” will be extended again and liability for any incident will follow.
  2. Social media can often be the cause of bullying and harassment complaints – be sure to have a policy in place dealing with the use of social media and remind staff of the terms of that policy, both generally and before the event.
  3. Tasking senior personnel with handling intoxication and other issues can bring a potential issue to a close quickly and efficiently.
  4. Train staff as to their personal work health and safety obligations.

In the event that you are still unsure as to your own personal obligations, and the obligations of your organisation, consider seeking out some training with respect to your duties and obligations under your relevant work health and safety legislation.

For further information or discussion, please contact HopgoodGanim Lawyers' Industrial & Employment Law team.  

1 Including the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA); the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (QLD) and other corresponding legislation in each state/territory.

Key Contacts
Andrew Tobin
Andrew is a Partner and the head of HopgoodGanim Lawyers’ Workplace and Employment practice.

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