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Avoiding Freddy Krueger nightmares at the office party

14 December 2017 - By Angharad O'Flynn

With Christmas only 10 days away, festivities and office decorating are in full swing; which generally brings along one of two situations - relief and a jovial time had by all or a tinsel filled bauble-bomb of disaster.

All of which can result in Freddy Krueger levels of nightmare for law firm partners or workplace managers.

But this needn’t be the case.

Below are some suggestions on how to make your festivities bauble-bomb free.

Parties

Too much booze and a year’s worth of suppressed emotions may lead to party outbursts and inappropriate behaviour, perhaps directed toward Jane from billing, who took your cat mug that cries coffee.

“An employer may wish to provide a Christmas party policy to staff or to circulate a brief note to all staff via email, reminding them of the organisation’s expectations in regard to acceptable and unacceptable behaviour when attending Christmas functions”, says Michael Quigg, employment partner and head of the employment team at Quigg Partners, Wellington.

“Reminding staff of such expectations becomes more important if the organisation is holding a large Christmas function and supplying alcohol to employees.”

Employers should also remember their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

“An intoxicated employee could pose a serious risk to health and safety. Venues used for work parties may also be considered part of the 'workplace' for health and safety purposes.”

In the context of festivities, there are steps an employer should consider to minimise risks and prevent any harm from occurring;

  • setting expectations to all employees prior to the function;
  • providing food when alcohol is on offer;
  • ensuring non-alcoholic drinks are also provided;
  • limiting the number of drinks per person;
  • ensuring that intoxicated people are not served any additional drinks; and
  • offering transport assistance.

You should also be mindful you don’t breach the liquor licenses act and serve alcohol to any of your staff who are under 18.

Decorations

Traditionally, Christmas is a Christian celebration. If an office allows the standard tinsel and tree decorations and then a more religious staff member wants to put up an icon like a cross, or a Nativity scene, when can a manager draw the line without being accused of religious discrimination?

“Employers should endeavour to accommodate an employee’s requests relating to their religion if those requests are reasonable… that may simply involve allowing the employee to put up a cross or other religious decoration in their own office or above their own desk”, says Michael Quigg.

“Equally, an employer should be mindful of any employees who may practise a religion that does not believe in or celebrate Christmas.”

While not widely used, if an employer does find that Christmas decorations within the workplace are becoming an issue, a polite notice to all staff establishing decoration overload concerns could be a good idea.

“An employer may wish to remind employees to be mindful of any health and safety concerns when putting up any decorations…consider the methods the employees are using to put up decorations (eg, standing on chairs or other furniture) and, also, how any heavy decorations are being fastened to ceilings or walls,” he says.

So, make sure your ceiling safeguards are fortified so the intern doesn’t get hit by the plastic angel while he’s sticking it up with double sided tape.

All that said, this really is a common-sense matter.

If you wouldn’t do it on a standard work day, don’t do it at the party and risk your dignity, your reputation or your job.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019