A work holiday party is a great occasion to get your entire organisation together and celebrate a year of wins, raise a glass to all the hard work everyone put in, and get ready for the year ahead.
But a workplace party can lead to some unfavourable outcomes – disciplinary action, or even termination based on inappropriate behaviour and misconduct. Often employees are unaware that a work party held off-site is still considered the workplace, so their behaviour and obligations don’t always reflect how they represent themselves in the day-to-day office environment. Just because there’s a fancy dress theme, and alcohol at the off-site holiday work party doesn’t mean everything can just let loose.
So, before your upcoming office party turns into the Nightmare before Christmas, let’s look at some (fictional) characters that you hopefully don’t cross paths with at your holiday work party.
Loose Lips Linda
Linda is the one who orders more than one bottle of champagne for your table, keeping the bubbly flowing all night long. She knows all the office gossip, and after a few drinks, she’s ready to sink some ships with those loose lips of hers, and trust us, she’ll talk to anyone that’ll listen.
Gossip can be dangerous to the workplace and to your staff. Loose chatter can harm someone’s career (not to mention personal life if it gets out of hand), and could potentially damage your company’s reputation and brand.
- If the intention is to deliberately humiliate, threaten or intimidate another colleague, and their actions can create a risk to health and safety, gossiping about co-workers can be construed as bullying. Does your team need some refresher training about workplace bullying? Check out our large offering on workplace bullying courses, or find out how prevention is better than cure.
- Gossiping about company secrets, issues or challenges – whether internally to other staff – or sharing these rumours outside the company (see: Broadcast Britney) poses additional risks around your company’s reputation and brand. Raise worker awareness about improper behaviour and when to make a public interest disclosure with our whistleblowing course.
There’s just something about Kevin. He starts the night early, barely toeing the line at the work party with some inappropriate comments about the length of his co-worker’s skirts, all jokingly of course, it’s just ‘locker room talk’ after all. A few beers later, and it goes from borderline to leaping well across the line.
Sexual harassment isn’t a joke. Locker room talk isn’t an excuse either, and it has no place in the workplace. 1 in 5 women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. The Sex Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for a person to sexually harass another person including in employment. With the holiday spirit(s) free flowing, now is a perfect time for Crossing-the-line Kevin to make his move, but would you really want to leave that up to chance and the repercussions that could trickle down to your staff and your organisation?
Think your team needs a refresher in sexual harassment in the workplace? Take some time to investigate your options before your upcoming end of year party. It’s never too late.
Alistair didn’t meet his quota last month, or the month prior. He’s as depressed as he is mad; he thinks it was sabotage. He believes his co-workers are working against him to make sure he gets the boot before year’s end, but it’s all in his head. He’s spotted at the bar taking advantage of that free-flowing alcohol, swigging whiskey-cokes all night until he decides his Dutch courage (and his fists) should do all the talking. He becomes increasingly aggressive towards everyone with whom he has a bone to pick, and then things start to get physical. He eventually gets escorted out of the venue by security.
Employees take on immense risk when they serve an open bar at a work party, and a recent case by Fair Work noted that employers are less likely to insist on behavioural standards at work functions if they choose to serve unlimited alcohol. Some other serious risks that Angry Alistair could cause include: assault can lead to a criminal offence, driving under the influence from a work-party (remember your obligations as an employer to ensure your team gets home safe), or saying or doing things they might regret the morning after.
Is it time to ask yourself whether you’ve enabled mental well being programs over the festive season? Angry Alistair is definitely dealing with more than meets the eye. One has to ask how you can keep the workplace stress and anxiety-free for the holidays.
He came to holiday work party rockin’ a homemade Make Australia Great Again hat. He tends to confuse his role with the border police from Tony Abbott’s Operation Fortitude when he has a few drinks in him, as he alienates and discriminates his co-workers based on their race and ethnicity. Don’t ask him about Pauline Hanson or Waleed Aly unless you want to get an earful.
Let’s take a moment to talk about discrimination in the workplace. Workplace policies such as sexual harassment, equality opportunity or bullying apply as equally in the office as they do at the holiday work party. Ralph risks serious disciplinary action, including losing his job for venting his personal beliefs and/or discriminating his co-workers based on religion, political associations, racial backgrounds, either towards his managers or colleagues. While Ralph may keep his personal beliefs to himself day-to-day and is normally pleasant to his co-workers, some booze at the off-site work party doesn’t make that conduct okay. An end of year, or holiday work party is deemed to be an employer-sponsored event which means the employer is responsible for Ralph’s behaviour. And without a doubt, HR would receive more than a few complaints from his colleagues on Monday morning. So what’s considered appropriate conduct at the workplace? Time to take a refresher with our aptly named course: Appropriate Behaviour at Work Parties.
Broadcast Britney, The Bully
Hey Britney, we need to talk about your excessive social media broadcasting. Never without her iPhone, snapping pics, sharing Snapchats, uploading to Instagram or busy tweeting #vodkathoughts, Britney is a silent threat. While she may be busy laughing, and taking pictures of your work party, she’s collecting an album full of misconduct, featuring – you guessed it – her colleagues. Ever the busy woman, Broadcast Britney can be seen partying it up with Loose Lips Linda so that she can tweet about how Crossing-the-Line Kevin and ‘supposedly’ Straight-Laced Stacey were canoodling in the kitchen, where she showed off a “different type of lace (if you know what I mean) #scandalous”. Or how supposedly Straight-Laced Stacey got her promotion for something other than hard work and dedication (and she makes a point to caption it on Insta). Broadcast Britney doesn’t hold back when it comes to posting these stories with degrading commentary about her co-workers and their actions (whether it’s true or false). Trace her social feed back several months, and you have some repeated behaviour.
Social media is becoming the dark horse when it comes to reputational and brand damage to your organisation. Having staff wreak havoc on not only the company but on their workplace peers can cause serious harm to everyone involved, including your organisation. Ask yourself this – does your workplace have social media policies that outline ways in which staff can use social media while on company time? What about workplace bullying policies that extend into the realm of social media and electronic communication? Does it cover posting selfies and videos shot at work-related events? Get a better understanding about the business impact and personal consequences of inappropriate behaviour via mail, text message and social media with our Law at Work Electronic Communication and Social Media course.
Did you know you can be held vicariously liable for all their actions?
We’ve gone through a list of potential worst-case scenarios at this wild imaginary office party. But the scary thing is, if any of these characters were to pop up at your office party, employers could be held vicariously liable for their employee’s actions.
Practical Steps to Avoid Vicarious Liability at the Office Party
We can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have the reasonable steps in place – policies and workplace training. While these may seem small, they’re valuable tools to demonstrate a commitment to eliminate inappropriate behaviours at the work holiday party.