After the Christmas break, there are inevitably a few employees coming to work red-faced after their behaviour at the office Christmas Party. While you may consider these issues to be between your employees, as a small business owner, you can be held responsible for the actions of your staff at a work function.
The month of January brings with it an increase in the likelihood of a workplace claim arising from inappropriate conduct at the office Christmas Party. Harassment, sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and workplace health and safety issues are common complaints.
Under anti-discrimination laws, the employer can be held vicariously liable for the actions of its employees in relation to harassment, sexual harassment or discrimination committed ‘in the course of employment’. Employer-sponsored events such as the office Christmas Party falls under an events that occurs ‘in the course of employment’, but it’s also important to be aware that employers are responsible for the conduct of their employees at all work related events, both on and off-site. This includes unplanned and spontaneous events that may occur, for example, after a client meeting.
Ben Thompson, CEO at HR consultancy firm the EI Group warns that employers have been found to be liable for an employee’s inappropriate conduct at work-related events. He advises the potential cost of claims against the business for the drunken actions of a staff member could be in excess of $10,000.*
It’s important for employees to be aware of this risk and take reasonable steps to minimise the chance of it occurring, for example:
- Ensuring that employees are made aware that responsible and respectful behaviour is required by all attendees at any work event, formal or informal
- Advising employees that unplanned and spontaneous functions or events may also be work related and therefore workplace policies and rules apply
- Sending an email to all employees prior to any organised event to remind them of their responsibilities and to refresh them on relevant workplace policies
- Providing training where required to enable employees to adhere to workplace policies and behaviour standards
- Making employees aware of the consequences of failing to adhere to the policy
- Ensuring the responsible service of alcohol and making sure food and non-alcoholic drinks are available at all work-related functions you organise.
While these procedures may minimise the risk of this occurring at your workplace, the possibility always remains that an employee will act out with the guidelines and leave your business in the firing line.
A Management Liability policy helps to protect your business against risks of this nature, but it’s important to have a solid understanding of what you are seeking coverage for first. We can help you make sense of the policies available and ensure that you purchase the appropriate product for your business needs.
* Source: http://www.hcamag.com/ ‘Avoid Christmas Party Liability’ [Published 15th November, 2011]
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