It has reached the festive time of year when our diaries are filled with lunches, parties and client functions. Whilst this is a highly anticipated time of year when relationships are strengthened between co-workers, and bonds are formed with clients, this time of year can also be a dangerous time for employers.
In the recent matter of Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey Joint Venture  Mr Keenan brought an unfair dismissal claim against his former employer, after his employment was terminated as a result of inappropriate and drunken behaviour at a bar following the office Christmas party.
Whilst it was made clear to employees that usual standards of behaviour were applicable at the Christmas party, no guidelines were put in place for any celebrations which followed the conclusion of the formal event. Here, Mr Keenan acted inappropriately towards fellow staff members at a bar located upstairs from the location of the Christmas party, but which was not organised by his employer.
Vice President Hatcher of the Fair Work Commission found that Mr Keenan’s inappropriate conduct was outside the ambit of the Christmas party, and therefore could not be relied on by his employer as a basis for Mr Keenan’s termination. This position was based on the finding that drinks at a bar following the official function were not connected to Mr Keenan’s employment, as the celebrations were not arranged, induced, or funded by the employer.
Christmas functions are a good way to thank employees for their hard work for the year, and a chance for staff members to get to know each other in a social context. However, Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey Joint Venture  is a reminder that employers need to put measures in place to ensure that office functions remain a safe and enjoyable occasion for all involved.
Tips for employers to keep Christmas functions festive:
Advise employees prior to a work event that they are to behave in a manner expected of them within the workplace, and warn employees of the repercussions of behaviour which does not accord with the requirements of their employment.
- Be mindful of office Kris Kringle or any other gift giving activities, that gifts should not be offensive and/or sexual in nature.
- Make it clear to employees when the official function concludes, and that any celebrations following the event will not be connected to their employment, irrespective of who is in attendance.
- Attend a venue which adheres to the requirements of safe service of alcohol.
- Ensure that there is food and non-alcoholic beverages available to encourage limiting the intake of alcohol by staff members.
- Provide safe options to staff members to get home safely. Providing a bus or cab charge will also reduce the risk of employees driving home whilst under the influence of alcohol.