The Silly Season
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The silly season

With a busy month ahead for many businesses holding work social functions and Christmas parties it is a good time to consider your workplace policies and practices and how they apply to social functions and behaviour that is outside the usual office or work space.  
 
Behaviour outside of the workplace
 
We recently wrote about the Oracle case (http://www.blandslaw.com.au/blog/174-new-standard-set-for-workplace-harassment-compensation.htmll), a sexual harassment case which involved harassment (at times amounting to criminal conduct) that occurred both inside and outside the office.
Whether or not something is considered ‘at work’ will depend on the facts.
 
This case highlighted that conduct which occurred outside of the office was still, in these particular circumstances, the responsibility of the employer.  To imitigate or avoid liability, employers need to be able to show they have taken reasonable steps to prevent the discriminatory or harmful conduct occurring in the first place.    
  

Social Functions

Employee behaviour at work social functions or Christmas parties is subject to workplace policies and must also meet certain standards. A social functions policy may, for example, cover alcohol consumption, appropriate conduct and gift-giving guidelines. It may be useful at this time of year to remind employees what policies are in place, when these apply and that in some instances they cover behaviour outside of the office. 

 
On a practical or common-sense note, planning ahead will give you an edge. Prior to any work function consider possible risks or issues and manage them ahead of time. For example, do you need to arrange transport or taxi vouchers for employees to get home after a work function.
 
Good workplace policies offer many benefits to employers in businesses of all sizes. Policies should be kept regularly up to date and checked for both legal compliance and relevance for your particular business. Importantly,  employment law cases this year have again highlighted the importance of well implemented policies. A well written policy will not amount to much if it is not effectively rolled out in the workplace.
 
These policies, if well communicated and explained to employees, may help prevent problems occurring in the first place. On a day to day basis they will also foster a workplace that is a safe and pleasant place to work in. Policies allow employers to set appropriate guidelines and employees to understand what is expected of them. Obviously not all problems can be prevented and for many reasons issues may arise. If they do, a good policy will provide a clear set of procedures to follow including consequences for employees who have breached the policy.

Good policies and careful planning will put you in good standing for the silly season this year. 

Sarah Waterhouse, Solicitor, BlandsLaw 

Image courtesy of varandah at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
 

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