It’s work Christmas party season. A time to be merry. But, also a time to be aware. While a Christmas party can boost social connections and morale, it can be filled with issues for business owners, if it isn’t planned properly. The planning I’m talking about isn’t referring to what flavour the cocktails should be.

With proper planning and communication, coupled with a few good policies, you as the business owner can feel better about heading into the party knowing that you are minimising and managing the risks for everyone. An employer can be found liable for misconduct by an employee if they have not taken reasonable steps to prevent any such thing occurring. 

You are the host of your Christmas party. You pay the bill for the food and drink, and you invite your staff to attend. Therefore, it is, by definition, a work function, and workplace policies apply. You are ultimately responsible for your employees, their safety and their conduct during your work Christmas party.

Before you throw on the fancy coloured blazer and demonstrate your skills on the dance floor, look at implementing the following things and provide your team with information prior to the event.

provide a location and start & finish time

Always provide an end time for your party and move people on at the finish time. A good process is to call last drinks about 20-30 minutes before the finish time.

provide information about the food and beverages available 

Make sure you have plenty of food and non-alcoholic options at your party. People may choose to drink alcohol, however having other alternatives along with a substantial food offering is very important.

remind your staff that it is a work function 

It’s important to remind your employees that this is, in fact, a work function. Provide them with copies of your policies around alcohol & drugs, discrimination, bullying and harassment, conduct and safety at work functions. Even better, plan some training on appropriate workplace behaviours around the time of your party to reinforce expectations.

provide safe travel options for the team 

Ensure the location has safe travel options for your team and let them know what these are. All team members, particularly if they are drinking alcohol, are responsible for getting themselves safely home and not drink-drive. Yet it is important that the means of transport are available. Ideally, your venue will be close to public transport. This might be buses, taxis, ferries, trains. Some companies arrange transport and/or provide an allowance for their trip home.

If the venue is not close to public transport, you will need to seriously consider providing transport to take your team members back to a central transport hub.

assign event monitors

Assign responsible people who will be able to monitor the event and act quickly should an incident occur. Let your team know in advance who they can go to. Do not rely on the venue staff to handle your team. If you notice someone is becoming intoxicated, take action to avoid anything escalating. This is for the safety of the employee, as well as the other team members and the venue.

prepare for the worst

Have a plan if something does go wrong. The plan may include taking a copy of the next of kin list with you or having a designated person allocated to travel with an employee should it be required. Some teams have a buddy system, where small groups, sometimes those who live near each other, look out for each other and stay together, getting everyone home safely.

Most of the above items can be sent in a message or email a couple of days prior to the event. This gives your team a chance to review policies if needed. The message does need to be firm but there is nothing stopping you from doing it in a friendly tone. A tone that matches your culture, where the team can see that you are genuinely interested in their safety and hosting a fun and enjoyable event.

what happens if an incident occurs?

If an incident occurs, and you need to follow up after the event, act quickly. Ensure that you do investigate any complaint around an incident that may have occurred and utilise your policies around conduct, safety etc, to manage the situation, taking disciplinary action where required. All of these steps will minimise fallout. 

Most parties go off without a hitch, and often it takes a few small steps to ensure this. Take the time, in advance, to guide your employees and no doubt your Christmas party will be a night everyone enjoys, safely and free of any ‘incidents’.