Avoiding Issues at your Workplace Functions This Silly Season

14 December 2017

If the recent weather is anything to go by summer is certainly here and so is the silly season when many of us will gather around BBQs in backyards and attend many a Christmas function all with beverages in hand.


The relaxed informal atmosphere, the increased excitement of the looming Christmas break and access to alcohol can create the perfect breeding ground for an increased risk of:

• Employees being injured;

• Sexual harassment and bullying; and

• Inappropriate behaviour.


Although interestingly in 2016 a third of businesses chose not to have their annual Christmas party and one of the reasons is thought to be due to the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. Employers or managers considering a function at the workplace should be mindful of their responsibilities under the Act. Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees for the duration of work functions as the Act requires employers to ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of persons in their workplace and the employer’s obligations can go outside of the obvious places like the company offices.


Venues away from the office used for work parties will be considered part of the "workplace" for health and safety purposes. Employers should support employees, foster a healthy workplace environment, and promote responsible enjoyment practices at work functions. Prevention is better than cure - so what can employers do to prevent problems arising from the Christmas party?


Send a reminder to employees in advance, including any relevant policies. Explain the impact of these in clear terms and any expectations as to behaviour.


Good host responsibilities – provide food, non-alcoholic drinks, and don’t serve intoxicated persons (limit and control alcohol availability).


• Send a reminder to employees in advance, including any relevant policies. Explain the impact of these in clear terms and any expectations as to behaviour.

• Good host responsibilities – provide food, non-alcoholic drinks, and don’t serve intoxicated persons (limit and control alcohol availability).

• Have some sober managers present at the party to keep an eye on things.

• Encourage collective responsibility, i.e. make employees responsible for their colleagues (particularly in relation to alcohol consumption and behaviour).

• Prohibit work vehicles being taken to functions unless the driver is a dedicated sober driver.

• Arrange for transport home such as taxi chits or if the festivities are out of town organise some accommodation.


Not only is health and safety a consideration but code of conduct matters is still in play. The fact that the party may be 'off site' nor after hours exempts employees from complying with the code of conduct. When an employee's conduct is such that it impacts negatively on the employer's business, conflicts with the employee's duties, or undermines the employer's trust and confidence in the employee, it may provide the basis for a dismissal, or warrant disciplinary action. It is advisable to remind staff that the disciplinary rules still apply to them during the office party. Simply because the party is held out of office hours and maybe off the employer's premises does not mean that employees should consider themselves excused from behaving responsibly. This could include highlighting the fact that drinking to excess, the use of illegal drugs, fighting, the use of bad language, inappropriate sexual conduct, and so on, will be considered to be acts of serious misconduct.


Clearly the issue of intoxicated workers must be handled with tact and care. Common sense indicates that the supply of alcohol at work functions should be moderated. Most employers value their employees and don't want to sack them for drunken conduct. But overall there is no need be the fun police – remind employees it is a time of celebration, a time of year to be enjoyed and that drunk employees spoil the party for everyone.


If you are unsure of your obligations as an employer, or any other matter related to the Christmas period just give one of our legal team a call.


Angela MacKenzie Solicitor


Legal Team 


Diana Hudson Managing Solicitor 03 456 1804 / 021 816 469 diana@osea.org.nz


David Browne Solicitor 03 456 1812 / 021 225 6938 david@osea.org.nz


Angela MacKenzie Solicitor 03 218 7962 / 021 756 809 angela@osea.org.nz


Grant Walker Advocate 03 455 5165 grant@osea.org.nz