Work Christmas Party – What is the Employer’s Duty of Care?

The duty of care responsibilities placed upon employers by WA’s health and safety legislation, remains the same for a work Christmas party, as it would if they were at work. A Christmas Party may present a set of risks that are unusual in your work place, but as far as health and safety legislation is concerned, they’re still work related risks that the employer needs to manage. Some reasonable safety risk management may include:

  • communicate what behaviour is acceptable – your organisations Code of Conduct doesn’t switch off for the party.
  • clearly communicate the start and end times – this enables people to plan for getting to and from the party, and set’s a boundary around the event.
  • make sure the venue is suitable for the number of people who will attend and any activities that are part of the function.
    have measures in place to curb excessive alcohol consumption.
  • have a Senior Manager play a chaperone role at the party – put out fires before they burn.

When does Duty of Care cease after a Christmas party?

…this is a question to which the answer isn’t simple. There have been numerous cases in Australia where employer duty of care/ liability has ended up the subject of court proceedings following incidents after work sanctioned functions. To this end, at the very least employers should encourage staff to make plans to get home safely, and even take a more active role (e.g. order the Uber) in how an employee get’s home if it’s clear during the function that they’re not in a good way.
A standard that is often applied is that the employer has a duty of care to the employees while they engage in any activity reasonably associated with attending a work function. This may include travel to and from the function. However, the employers’ duty of care ceases when the employee clearly sets off on an activity of their own making.
So if an employee engages in an activity that is not part of the expectation of activities undertaken while at a work function, then they are likely to be stepping outside the realms of the employers’ duty of care.
Christmas functions bring a lot of value to a work places, and like so many aspects of work they present safety risks that require management.

Key Article References –

WorkSafe. Guidance Note: Alcohol and Other Drugs at the Workplace
Queensland Work Cover – Work Christmas parties and duty of care
Canberra Times – How cruel Kris Kringle ruined my public service career
Corney and Lind Lawyers – Christmas Work Functions – When does an Employer’s Duty of Care End?