No-one likes to be the Christmas Grinch but that time of year has come around again, which means employers should take time out to remember that they must meet their obligations under Equal Opportunity, Occupational Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation legislation – even at social functions.Employers are vicariously liable for acts of sexual harassment if reasonable steps to prevent such harassment have not been taken.

In addition, the new Equal Opportunity Act 2010 places a positive duty on employers to take “reasonable and proportionate” measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. This means that employers must be more proactive now than ever before about taking steps to eliminate such conduct.

The Courts have considered many a case arising from unacceptable conduct that has occurred at an end of year function. In most of these cases, whether an employer has been found liable, has turned on whether there was effective communication by the employer of the standards of behaviour expected of its employees.

An effective way of communicating this to your employees is to send them an email attaching all relevant workplace policies and reminding them that they are expected to abide by the same standards of behaviour and conduct as they would at the workplace.

Here is an example of what you can send:

“A reminder to all of our employees who are attending our end of year celebration function, the details of which are attached. It is a work function; therefore our policies on Sexual Harassment, Workplace Bullying and Anti-Discrimination apply to everyone.

Please take the time to refresh your memories as to the policies, but most importantly have a great time, look after each other, don’t drink and drive or do silly things that can cause harm. Please do the right thing and behave accordingly. We want everyone to have a great night.

The reality is that any social function involving staff may expose us as your employer to some risk. And let’s face it – especially where alcohol is involved. In the majority of cases, the risk is one that we are happy to take. If you take appropriate care in planning and organising your celebration, then all that’s left to do on the day is to CELEBRATE.”

As an employer here are some DOs and DON’Ts:


  • Communicate with staff prior to the event and outline relevant policies and expectations of behaviour;
  • circulate any relevant policies (Equal Opportunity, Anti-Discrimination, Anti-Harassment;
  • ensure the responsible service of alcohol (including serving light beer and provide non-alcoholic beverages);
  • serve food;
  • be mindful of transport arrangements for staff attending;
  • be alert to harassment or other forms of unacceptable behaviour and take action immediately

  • let an intoxicated employee drive home;
  • be afraid to speak to employees who are intoxicated or behaving inappropriately, and if necessary, ask them to leave;
  • serve alcohol to employees under the age of 18;
  • just serve alcohol; and
  • make the event compulsory, or force employees to attend.

Click here to view the full It’s the Season for Social Functions…and Harassment Complaints article in PDF.

Posted in: Company Announcements