Has the employment law Grinch stolen the Office Christmas party?

December 5th, 2022 - Barbara Buckett

No, the Grinch hasn’t stolen work Christmas parties, a good party can still be had without too much restraint, but the law does require employers and employees to behave appropriately, safely, respectively and with moderation, modicum, and consideration at workplace functions.

So, how can Office Christmas parties be fun and safe? 

First, remember not all employees like Christmas parties. Be respectful in the planning of the many diverse, personal, cultural, political, and ethnic interests. Further, consider a right of refusal for those who might not feel comfortable attending. It is important to not make others feel that attendance at these celebrations is a requirement,it is okay to not want to participate.

Make sure it is a healthy and safe environment for all, and not dominated by the interests of a few more gregarious staff members.

Have clear ground rules that are identified from the outset. Make it clear what behaviour and interactions are appropriate and expected. i.e. no smutty jokes, sexual innuendo, sexual banter, harassment, inappropriate touching or comments. From the outset make it clear what the disciplinary consequences will be if such behaviours transgress.

Find games that do not embarrass, humiliate, alienate, or exclude. Breaking an egg on someone’s head isn’t funny as is putting too much chilli in someone’s curry as a joke. And yes, this did happen.          

If alcohol is to be part of the function, then manage that consumption by limiting the amounts available, and the length of the function; provide food, non-alcoholic beverages, and transport. Appoint someone suitably senior in management to manage the function. 

On the flip side, a good party celebrates hard work and tough times, and it rewards and celebrates. It provides an opportunity for employees to socialise with work colleagues boost morale and promote collegiality. Given covid, this has possibly become more important, as many workplaces have become remote and isolating.

So, from BuckettLaw we wish all good, safe celebrations. 

To employers we say: 

Make it an opportunity to recognise and thank your staff for their invaluable contributions.  

To employees, we say: 

Have fun without dire employment-defining consequences; be sensible remembering it is a work function, and how you behave outside of work is not necessarily appropriate and may get you into hot water. Be mindful of power imbalances between senior and junior staff, respect diversity, moderate behaviour and drinking, and leave before your behaviour becomes embarrassing. The social function is not an opportunity for predatory behaviour.     

We are regularly asked for advice in the run-up to the festive season and are often approached in the final workdays of December or at the beginning of January when things have gone a bit pear-shaped.  

Buckett Law is here to help so please contact us if you need employment law advice; prevention is usually better than the cure

For employers keep your workplace safe, and merry.  For employees to have fun and stay employed in the new year.

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

Enjoy a complimentary 15-minute phone call as a first-time offer.

Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

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