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Avoid a Christmas Nightmare

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

Yes, it's that time of the year when the "silly season" is racing down the calendar toward us like a rampaging reindeer. You and/or your staff are probably already thinking about what you are going to do for the end-of-year party.

In this blog, without being seen as the Christmas Grinch, we urge care in your planning to ensure that your company celebration does not lead to a nasty employment relations hang-over.

Ensure care is given to booking an appropriate venue and ensuring plenty of food is on offer to offset any celebratory drinks that may be on offer.

Be clear with your staff about the expected standards of behaviour and clarifying work function start and finish times. To avoid doubt, send these expectations out in a written memo or email to all staff.

Ensure a responsible person is appointed to be on the alert for inappropriate behaviour and arrangements are made for employees to get home safely, particularly if alcohol is going to be consumed.

Be aware that despite the careful planning and risk mitigation across areas like health and safety, sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying, it is called the silly season and things can still go wrong.

So, what should you do if your business experiences a festive season fallout?

Act immediately and effectively

Regardless of how close to the last day of the year you hold your celebrations, if an issue arises, do not leave it until the new year to address.

Any issue or complaint that involves one or more employees, this needs to be treated as a priority and, if appropriate, the relevant employee may need to be stood down pending an investigation. Consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate to conduct the investigation or whether to appoint an external, specialist workplace investigator.

Leaving too much time between an incident and acting can allow tensions to simmer further and undermines your complaints procedure, increasing the risk personal grievances, let alone jeopardising your legal position if you later decide to dismiss the employee who has behaved inappropriately.

Keep an eye on social media

Just about everyone uses social media these days, and when things go wrong, it is increasingly likely that someone may have captured it on their smartphone and even posted the incident on their Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. This use of digital media does blur the lines between employees personal and business activities.

You need to consider how you might protect your business and your employees from disparaging comments, photos or videos on social media in a party environment or when tensions can quickly flare following a dispute.

If you have a social media policy, ensure your employees are reminded on its contents and implications if they breach it and do this before you start your company celebrations.

Even if your celebrations are off-site, where a sufficient connection to work exists, you can act where an employee’s use of social media breaches other policies such as bullying, harassment and discrimination.

Taking the right steps now to educate your staff ahead of the end-of-year celebrations can go a long way to ensure your event is a celebration and not a Christmas nightmare in waiting.

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