Work Christmas Parties: how to prevent and manage incidents this silly season - PerformHR

The festive season is almost upon us and amongst the decorating of trees, singing of Christmas carols and purchasing of gifts comes the annual work Christmas party. Christmas parties are a great opportunity for employers to reward hard work, and can have a positive impact on team culture.

They can also be a great tool for attracting new recruits to the organisation. You can bet your employees will be bragging about their amazing company party over Christmas lunch!

While they are intended to be a happy festive event, end of year parties are also notorious for causing stress for employers due to risk of over-indulgence and potential workplace incidents.

As an employer, it’s important to understand that the same duty of care applies to any event  organised and paid for by the employer, as it would in the workplace.

What can you do before the event to prevent incidents?

There are a few things you can do in preparation for an event to ensure it all goes smoothly.

  • Check your policies.
    Ensure that your internal policies and procedures are up to date and in line with best practice, especially code of conduct, drug and alcohol, bullying and harassment policies. Another one to consider, is your social media policy. The combination of champagne, camera phones and Facebook can quickly get you in hot water.
  • Communicate to your workforce.
    There’s no point updating your policies if no one knows about them. This can be a good time to re-educate your team. Send an email to employees before the event, reminding them that while the party is a time to relax, it’s still a work function. The email should also provide access to all relevant policies and procedures, and outline any repercussions of misconduct. You could even highlight the key areas relevant to the event. This is also an opportunity to remind employees of the requirement to be fit for work on the following days, so there is no room for ambiguity.
  • Serve responsibly.
    If alcohol is served at the party, make sure it’s served in line with relevant legislation and RSA compliant. RSA can get a little loose at work events, with patrons often over-served. Speak to the venue management, and reinforce that you expect intoxicated persons to be refused service. Provide them with a contact person to speak to should they need to report intoxication at the event.
  • Don’t let people go hungry!
    One of the biggest mistakes you can make is providing a generous bar, then skimping on the food. Hungry people drink more, and are more likely to become intoxicated. You also have a responsibility to non-drinkers to provide the same level of hospitality.
  • Provide a safe environment.
    Arrange for your Workplace Health and Safety representative to meet with the venue coordinator to ensure adequate first aid facilities, and evacuation procedures are in place.
  • Consider the end of the evening.
    Where appropriate, make arrangements for your employees to get home safely after the event. Organise a bus, pre-order some taxis, or arrange for some designated drivers. Workers who are injured on their way home from a work function may be entitled to workers compensation claims. It may be a good idea to have security or senior staff present in the car park at the end of the night to prevent any potential incidents or reckless behaviour.

What should be done if something does go wrong?

Ok, you planned ahead but something unpleasant still happened. What should you do about it?

  • Act immediately!
    One of the biggest mistakes you can make is delaying action until the new year. Take any action required at the event itself, and schedule additional meetings as required.
  • Establish the details of the incident.
    Not every incident will require a disciplinary procedure, but all must be investigated, with all relevant parties consulted. If alcohol was involved, memories may be hazy, and you will need to speak with several people to gain a clear understanding of what happened.
  • Plan your next move.
    Decide on appropriate next steps, in line with Code of Conduct and relevant policies. This will depend on the severity of the incident. If someone just got a little too carried away with the Christmas cheer and needed to leave early, then perhaps simply a conversation is required. Serious issues of inappropriate behaviour or misconduct will require more formal action, and must be treated the same way as you would an incident that occurred in the office.
  • Take complaints seriously.
    In the instance that someone makes a complaint about the behaviour of another member of staff, you should address this immediately and follow your grievance policy. It’s very important that these reports are not dismissed as simply a misunderstanding. Unless you formally investigate, you won’t be in a position to prevent any ongoing harassment. This may leave you at risk of an employee bringing an employment tribunal claim for failing in your duty to protect them from harassment by their colleagues.
  • Follow absentee procedures.
    Any post-party staff absences should be dealt with in line with the normal policies.
  • Learn from experience.
    Reflect on the pre-Christmas party information. Was it informative enough for the employees around the company’s expectations? Identify any areas for improvement next year. Many companies have taken steps to host alcohol-free parties after an increase in complaints. This may be something to consider if behaviour becomes a recurring issue.

So before you put on your party hats, ensure you are fully prepared for any potential risk, and your employees understand what is expected from them. If something does go wrong, begin the investigation quickly, and deal with all matters confidentially and fairly.

With good communication and planning, you should feel confident to enjoy a happy, safe, festive celebration!

If you’d like further guidance on your responsibilities as an employer, workplace social events or  policies, get in touch with one of our HR experts at or on 1300 406 005. For regular case studies and articles, see our Think Differently blog.

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