End of Year Functions - avoiding legal claims

The festive season is upon us and many employers are planning their End of Year office party for employees. 

In recent years, employees have successfully brought claims against employers in relation to Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) breaches, negligence, sexual harassment and workers compensation arising out of work functions.

In order to avoid possible claims against them, it is important for employers to be aware of their legal responsibilities and the potential risks of holding office functions.

  • Attendance at a work function is considered to be conduct “in the course of employment” and accordingly, employers can be held vicariously liable for conduct which occurs during the function.
  • Employer obligations to employees can extend beyond the actual function itself to conduct which occurs after the function has ended.
  • Pursuant to OHS legislation, employers have an obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees whilst at work, which includes the office party.
  • Employers should review or establish OHS, harassment, drug and alcohol and dispute resolution policies and ensure that they are known by employees. It is a good idea to send around an email prior to the function reminding staff of these policies and that the policies apply at the function.
  • Ensure responsible service of alcohol and take all reasonable steps to ensure employees are able to make alternative travel arrangements.
  • A Manager/Supervisor should be appointed to monitor employee behaviour at the function.

Further, we remind employers that the following days are public holidays:

  • 25 December - Christmas Day
  • 26 December - Boxing Day 
  • 1 January - New Year’s Day

Because both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are falling on a weekend, the following days will be ‘public holidays’

  • Monday 26 December, Tuesday 27 December and Monday 2 January

An employee, who would have ordinary hours of work on these days, is entitled to be absent from work but is entitled to payment in accordance with State and Federal legislation.

Employees who are required to work on a public holiday shall be paid in accordance with the applicable Award or Enterprise Agreement. 

NECA Legal can assist employers with calculating Award / legislative obligations as well as review and/or develop policies to ensure your employees enjoy the festivities without putting the employer at risk.

Disclaimer: The above guide is not legal advice. For more information or if you would like NECA Legal’s assistance with policy development, contact NECA Legal on (08) 6241 6129 or email necalegalwa@necawa.asn.au