Let us paint the usual scene of the annual business Christmas party: there’s the employee who drinks too much and is unwelcomely ill in an inconvenient location, the employee who loosens their tongue and wakes up feeling not just sore, but sorry, and the employee that reveals their most embarrassing moves on the dance floor.
Waking up in the morning after a staff Christmas party and feeling embarrassed for your behaviour is pretty common, and usually, it’s because of something harmless. This changes very quickly, however, when your (or one of your employee’s) behaviour constituted something a little more serious than a badly sung karaoke version of Bohemian Rhapsody.
Drink driving accidents, sexual harassment, injuries (both physical and emotional), and assaults have all amounted in various claims being successfully brought against employers for having breached their duty of care to their employees or by vicarious liability. Employers beware – the festive season has arrived!
In the case of Lee v Smith & Ors  FMCA 59, The Federal Magistrates Court held the Department of Defence liable for the actions of an employee sexually assaulting a fellow employee after a private function. The circumstances of this case involved employees attending a private dinner party where an employee was intoxicated and subsequently sexually assaulted by a fellow employee.
The employer in this case was held to be liable as the employee had previously made a sexual harassment complaint. The Court held the employer to be liable as the sexual assault occurred in connection with the employment of the assaulter and arose out of a work situation. The Court found that there was a sufficient connection to the workplace and employment of the employees to hold the employer liable for the employee’s injuries.
Something employers are often not aware of when it comes to staff functions is that even though they may be outside the workplace and outside of work hours, Courts have held that there is a significant casual connection between the function and the workplace. As a result of this link, if an employee brings a claim due to injury they have incurred or injury they have inflicted on another at a work function, there will be a strong case against the employer to be liable.
As an employer you may be able to reduce or minimise liability where a case is bought against you where it can be shown that you have taken all reasonable steps to reduce your liability. Unfortunately in the circumstances this is usually quite difficult for an employer to prove.
What can you do?
To make sure the night goes smoothly, we have seven tips for business owners out there when planning the annual Christmas event:
- Monitor your employees’ behaviour.
- Ensure that your event is held in a safe and secure location.
- Provide transport and ensure that any employee drinking does not have their car available to them.
- Monitor employee relationships and try to keep an eye out for any untoward advances that are not reciprocated.
- Monitor alcohol consumption.
- Ensure that all employees are aware that you consider this to be a work event, and that any improper behaviour will be answerable.
- Determine with your insurance policy whether you would be covered for any liability arising out of damage caused at a work function.
It is the silly season, but as an employer it is your job to keep it safe. Follow these six tips and we’re sure your staff Christmas event will run smoothly and be enjoyed by all. Wishing all employers a happy and liability-free Christmas!
How we can help
For any question about employment, contracts, or litigation, contact us.