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End Of Year Functions - Advice To Employers

Employment Law: 23 March 2019

With Christmas and end of year parties commencing, it is time to remind employees about their obligations concerning sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying and the expectations of them as to their behaviour at social functions.

Employers liable for acts of employees

End of year functions should be a time for employees to celebrate the end of the year and relax with work colleagues but employers need to be aware of potential liability and take steps to ensure that employees act appropriately and so avoid liability for both the employee personally, and for the employer under the laws of vicarious liability. Liability can arise whether or not the function is at the workplace or outside work hours.

Sexual harassment

The most common complaint at this time of year is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome and/or uninvited behaviour that is of a sexual nature, which results in a person feeling offended, humiliated, frightened or intimidated. Sexual harassment may consist of:

  • Sexual jokes or propositions, including unwanted requests for sex or dates;
  • Staring or leering;
  • Unwelcome remarks or insinuations about a person's sex or private life;
  • Suggestive comments or jokes, including whistling and gestures;
  • Displays of obscene or pornographic photographs, pictures or other material;
  • Unnecessary or unwelcome familiarity, such as deliberately brushing against a person or putting an arm around a person;
  • Sexually explicit emails or messages;
  • Criminal offences, such as sexual assault, stalking and indecent exposure.

What to do Those employers who do not have policies in place should put them in place now. Those with policies should circulate the policies or remind employees that they should visit the intranet site and refamiliarise themselves with the policies now. Tips for workplace functions:

  1. Remind employees of the relevant policies (such as workplace function, sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying policies) and bring these to their attention.
  2. Ensure that there are specific start and end times for the event so it is clear when the function is over.
  3. Offer transport, such as cab charge vouchers, to all employees so everyone is able to get home safely.
  4. Ensure that alcohol is served responsibly, water is provided and food is served.
  5. Ensure that all employees understand what is expected of them and what behaviour will not be tolerated, including responsible consumption of alcohol.
  6. Inform all employees of the relevant dispute resolution procedure to deal with complaints by employees.
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