The work Christmas party is a time for everyone to relax and celebrate the year that was. The trouble is, there is always someone who celebrates too hard. This might result in an injury following a trip and/or fall or possibly in being assaulted or assaulting staff members.
It is accepted law that an employer cannot protect an employee against all eventualities, but is an Employer responsible from the drunken antics of an employee? The answer is maybe.
Work Christmas parties are likely to be deemed employer sponsored events and therefore “in the course of employment”. Any injury that arises out of the Christmas party may therefore entitle a Worker to make a Statutory Workcover claim. Such a claim might include the medical costs, lost wages or pharmaceutical treatments required. This includes your Journey to and from the Christmas party.
If a Worker leaves the work Christmas party and continues the party elsewhere this will likely cease any entitlement to Statutory Worker’s Compensation benefits (albeit it depends upon the facts).
This does not mean that at the work Christmas party you can get paralytic drunk and attack your boss, and still receive Workcover statutory benefits. In fact, employees ought to remember that at Christmas parties the companies code of conduct, anti-discrimination and any policies (including bullying) will still apply. Disregard for these company policies may result in written warnings and/or dismissal is the conduct is severe enough.
Are employers responsible for the safety of their employees at the Christmas party?
Yes. Despite Work Christmas parties often occurring outside of work hours, they have been determined to be “in the course of employment” and, thereby, employers are responsible for employees safety. Employers must take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of employees who attend their Christmas party.
If an employer fails to do this then a worker may be able to bring a claim for negligence against them.
The employer’s legal liability to ensure employee safety at the Christmas party also extends to the conduct of other employees. Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees which extends to inappropriate statements and conduct that occurs at work-related Christmas celebrations. For example:
- If one employee decides (after a few alcoholic beverages) to punch the office loudmouth in the face, the employer may be found negligent (depending upon the circumstances leading up to the punch in the face;
- An employee decides (again, after a few alcoholic beverages) to verbally abuse another staff member who later suffers a psychiatric injury (as a result of such abuse). The employer might be found negligent depending upon the factual basis leading up to the verbal abuse and the conduct of the employer following such abuse;
- Sexual abuse causing physical or psychiatric injury. The employer might be found negligent depending upon the factual basis leading up to the verbal abuse and the conduct of the employer following such abuse.
Employer’s can minimise their risk of having a claim made by taking the following proactive steps including:
- Ensuring responsible service and consumption of alcohol. This may include employing suitably qualified Hospitality staff, limiting the consumption of alcohol to beer and wine (as opposed to more alcoholic drinks) and/or only allowing one drink per person at a time.
- Supplying food and non-alcoholic beverages (including water).
- Having a code of conduct and drug and alcohol policy in place prior to Christmas functions and reminding employees of those policies before the function.
- Training employees and managers in relation to the standard of conduct required at work functions.
- Making appropriate transport arrangements if alcoholic beverages are served.
- Having appropriate monitoring and supervision at the party.
- Having a complaints process.
- Taking appropriate and timely action if issues arise.
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