Work Christmas parties – damages, dismissal and employer negligence
Christmas parties are a great way to celebrate the year with colleagues but of course they are not exempt from damages claims, employee dismissals, cases of employer negligence and regrettable social media activity. Employers ultimately have a duty of care to protect their employees and this extends to before, during and after work functions.
Behaviour at work Christmas parties can quickly turn. Excessive alcohol consumption can result in employees getting injured. One example occurred at a social function at Primepower Engineering that resulted in a 19 year old apprentice suffering severe burns to 60 per cent of his body.*
Management supplied 11 kegs of beer for the party which had been in progress for eight hours when the victim was engulfed in flame while participating in an “apprentice challenge”. Participants sprayed various substances, some of them flammable, into the intake of an engine to get the engine to seize by over-revving it.
The young apprentice was spraying petrol into the intake when a fireball erupted resulting in his injuries. In the Perth District Court, Judge Vicki Stewart said more should have been done to protect the apprentices during the party.
“This was not one beer consumed after work but a celebration involving free-flowing alcohol over a long period of time,” she said. “In those circumstances the potential danger was increased so greater steps were required to protect employees.”
On the other hand, there are several recent cases in Australia where employees have been disciplined and/or dismissed following their behaviour at these work functions. In almost all cases, excessive alcohol was involved. In one example, a Sydney based I.T. employee was dismissed after consuming more than 15 glasses of alcohol at his office Christmas party then urinating.**
Important preparations to ensure a safe and happy Christmas party:
- Remind employees about code of conduct before the party
- Remind employees about social media policies before the party
- Provide non-alcoholic beverage options
- Ensure there is ample food and people are encouraged to eat while drinking
- If alcohol is going to be consumed during the party, ensure it is not in excessive amounts
- Appoint minimum one person to be a dedicated party host that does not drink
- Don’t be afraid to send someone home for their own benefit and the safety of others
- Avoid CLM’s
The end of year Christmas party is something many employees look forward to. It is a great way for employees to socialise with fellow employees, those they are already work closely with and those that they may not know that well. Work Christmas parties are also a way for the employers to thank their employees for all their hard work throughout the year.
Although it is the employer’s responsibility to provide a duty of care, employees need to take personal responsibility and plan ahead to ensure they have a safe and enjoyable Christmas party. Even though it is a party, it is still a work event and should be treated as one.
Mohamed Derie – Business Development Manager
Source: * – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-07/kalgoorlie-company-negligent-over-burns-to-apprentice-at-party/6600180 (last accessed 24 November 2017)
Source ** – http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/biggest-work-christmas-party-fails/news-story/ad2fe4062a0a6fd0e1a50d1bdc8168c3 (last accessed 24 November 2017)