So you’ve had a drama filled year with business ups and downs, the odd problem or two and keeping the business going in the right direction
Now it’s time for some real drama – the Christmas Office Party!
There are plenty of horror stories in folklore and on the internet about incidents at office parties that have caused major problems for businesses. So why hold them in the first place if staff will get rowdy, drunk and horny? Well, with careful planning you can still hold a Christmas office party and have fun while keeping the risks down for the business.
Planning in advance will help you keep control and avoid the pitfalls that poorly planned and thought out office parties bring to the table. Below are a few scenarios and what you can do in advance to avoid them…
Scenario 1: A drunken employee wraps their arms around another employee and gives an unwanted kiss.
Sexual harassment is the number one key risk that employers need to be aware of. No business owner wants a sexual harassment claim and no employee wants to be in a situation where they have reason to launch one. Office party plus alcohol equals potential lawsuit.
Checklist # 1: Circulate your Harassment workplace policy to all employees. Provide training to staff and managers alike on this issue. A lawsuit can be costly in many ways – so make the effort.
Scenario 2: An employee drinks heavily, gets into their car and crashes on the drive home.
Under the OHS Act 2000 employers have a duty of care to protect health, safety and welfare of all employees including company work functions. Employees can lodge a workers’ compensation claim if they are injured travelling to and from work. This risk goes up with the likelihood of a high consumption of alcohol. A claim can put your insurance premiums up and involve more money that the budget for the party. Paying for the taxi home for staff is likely to be cheaper than a compensation claim on a failure to provide a duty of care.
Checklist # 2: Review your Health and Safety Issues and Risk Management plans. Address the safety of your employees travelling home – cab charge, chartered bus or paying for taxi receipts submitted after the event are examples.
Scenario 3: A frustrated employee, fuelled by alcohol, decides to get even with another employee and a fight erupts.
Employee relations are a sensitive area and office parties can sometimes bring out the worst in employee relationships. The potential for long term conflicts from office party dust-ups to undermine the culture of the business going forward are quite real, and damaging. If there has been any friction during the year between staff, an office party has the potential to be a minefield.
Checklist # 3: Circulate a Code of Conduct workplace policy before the office party. Make sure employees fully understand the standard of expected behaviour.
Scenario 4: A high value client is invited to the office party and insulted by an inebriated employee. They cancel a contract the next day.
Businesses can spend years and mountains of money to build up their reputation, only to have it blown by a thoughtless drunken employee. Consider carefully whether or not you need to invite your business clients to your party. Is it worth the risk of them seeing your staff without their ‘work hats’ on? If your employees are likely to let their hair down in a major way, then perhaps a smaller quieter function might be more relevant to impress key clients.
Checklist # 4: Advise staff of any VIP’s coming to the office party and make sure they know who they are and how valuable they are to the business. Revisit Checklist # 3. Can you organise a smaller function for relevant staff and your valued clients?
Scenario 5: Employee spills a full glass of wine on to the Marketing Manager’s laptop. The laptop fails and data is lost because it wasn’t backed up.
Damage to premises is another major worry for employers. Damage inflicted at an on-site party can cause significant damage and loss that could have been avoided. It is usually recommended that the event is held off-site at a restaurant, pub or other appropriate venue. But while you can avoid workplace risks by doing this, you should also consider the risks at an off-site venue. Have the function co-ordinator assess the risks at the venue and communicate to all attendees regarding any hazards, toilets, restricted areas, smoking areas procedures to follow in the event of fire, a fall, injury or other incidents.
Checklist # 5: Establish an Incident Reporting Procedure and circulate to all attending staff. For an on-site office party, make sure the designated area has been cleared beforehand to minimise damage. For an off-site office party make sure that the function co-ordinator has inspected it beforehand to identify risks.
Scenario 6: An employee with a mobile phone camera takes inappropriate pictures and posts them on Facebook along with comments.
The advent of social networking sites has added more risks and headaches to business. Employers can face claims of harassment and discrimination from employee’s activities on such networking sites. The reputation of your employer brand can go downwards very quickly if employees use social media sites with a free rein to say and do what they want regarding fellow workers and their employer.
Checklist # 6: Circulate a Social Media and Blogging workplace policy to all staff. Make sure all employees are aware of the consequences of discussing fellow employees or posting inappropriate pictures online.
So in conclusion, be prepared and have a very good set of workplace policies around staff behaviour. Make sure they are inducted and trained on the policies and aware of the consequences of transgressing them.
Don’t be afraid to make staff sign off on the induction or training as well. Once you add alcohol the inhibitions fall away and you might be very glad that staff were trained and signed off on it.
Is your business worth protecting from the reckless actions of a few staff?