With many workplaces starting to plan their end of year functions, it might be time to reassess how you manage your workplace functions, particularly if alcohol is involved. Some recent decisions resulted in businesses having to wear the liability for any inappropriate behaviour of its staff.

In the recent case of Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey Joint Venture [2015] FWC 3156 (26 June 2015) the Commission found that the free-flowing access to alcohol at a function under the employer’s control was a factor in finding that the employer’s decision to terminate the worker’s employment was harsh, unjust and unreasonable.

In the event of an accident, an employer may also be found to have breached its duty of care and become liable for damages. In such a situation, the employer’s insurance policy may not apply.

In Canny v Primepower Engineering Pty Ltd [2015] WADC 81 (3 July 2015) the West Australian District Court found the employer breached its duty of care by allowing workers to become intoxicated. It was held that adequate supervision was essential and that the managing director’s conduct was more than negligent. The conduct was held to amount to a deliberate flouting of the insurance policy.

To avoid ending up with a HR disaster in the New Year, here are some tips for businesses and employers leading up to these years festive season.

  1. Assess the venue beforehand for any hazards and risks.
  2. Before the event, inform staff of the function’s start and finish times.
  3. Make it clear that anything beyond this timeframe is not endorsed by the business.
  4. Send a reminder to staff about your workplace behaviour policies and the consequence of breaching them.
  5. Suggest an appropriate dress code for the function.
  6. Ensure that transport to and after the event is available so people can get home safely.
  7. Make available an event supervisor to monitor behavior and ensure safety.
  8. Place limits on bar tabs and facilitate responsible service of alcohol.
  9. Ensure food is available.
  10. Deal with any post-event complaints by staff as soon as possible just as you would in respect of other workplace-related concerns.