Employer duty of care: tips to reduce risk
To avoid waking up to a case of employer negligence, follow these seven steps:
1. Have appropriate, up-to-date workplace policies and procedures or codes of conduct in place covering topics such as bullying and harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, social media, confidentiality, work health and safety, and drug and alcohol use. You should also have policies in place dealing with complaints reporting mechanisms.
2. Prior to the event, remind employees of the standards of behaviour expected of them, and company policies continue to apply during the Christmas party. Remind employees of the consequences of inappropriate behaviour. You should also provide access to the policies (e.g. circulate copies or links of the policies).
3. Undertake a WHS risk assessment of the venue to identify potential safety hazards, and ensure these are monitored throughout the event (or make potential risk areas out of bounds).
4. Establish clearly defined start and finish times for the event, and make it clear that activities which continue afterwards are not endorsed by the employer. This helps to reduce the risk of being found liable for conduct that occurs after the function.
5. Appoint a senior employee to stay sober and supervise the function. This includes providing employees with a contact point should any issues arise, monitoring employee behaviour, dealing with issues (which might include sending people home or closing the bar), and organising appropriate transport arrangements at the end of the night.
6. Where alcohol is involved, comply with responsible service of alcohol laws and provide sufficient food and non-alcoholic drinks. Keep consumption of alcohol to reasonable levels and ensure no employee feels obliged to drink.
7. Deal with all complaints promptly, professionally and confidentially in accordance with applicable policies.