Balancing the Act: ADCQ newsletter -

Don't put Christmas in the too hard basket

Party food, glass of wine and a Christmas crackerSome employers are choosing to forego the end of year staff party in an attempt to avoid liability for issues of discrimination or harassment. But with some thoughtful preparation, staff parties can be enjoyable, inclusive and incident free.

Although often referred to as Christmas parties, end of year staff gatherings tend to be about acknowledging a team's hard work and achievements throughout the year, rather than a religious celebration.

For this reason it is important to take into consideration factors that may prohibit some staff from attending the celebration, and find solutions where possible. While it is rarely possible to fully satisfy everyone's needs and preferences, all efforts should be made to plan an inclusive event that will promote maximum attendance and enjoyment.

Young woman with balloons and party hatTips for end of year event

The following tips will help in planning your end of year event:

  1. Ensure policies and codes of conduct are in place and that staff understand not only their contents, but that they extend to work parties as well.
  2. The event should have a designated finishing time, but staff should be reminded that any 'kick on' events still require appropriate behaviour.
  3. If you are encouraging staff to bring partners to the work party, ensure that the invitation extends to all partners including those in same sex or non-traditional relationships.
  4. Consider the location and accessibility of the party venue as well as any planned activities. Age, impairment, religious beliefs and family responsibilities can all restrict individuals' ability to access or participate in activities. To avoid inadvertently excluding anyone from participating, enquire about special needs of attendees prior to planning the event.
  5. Encourage all staff to be involved in planning the event. This is likely to result in a more inclusive event, catering to a wide variety of needs and interests.
  6. Consider the timing of your staff party. Those with family or child care responsibilities may be more likely to attend if the function is held during business hours.
  7. Ensure that a variety of food and beverage options are available.  If alcohol is being provided, non-alcoholic alternatives should also be offered. Senior managers should encourage staff to drink and act responsibly, modelling those behaviours themselves.
  8. If inappropriate behaviour is observed at the event, it needs to be addressed then and there. Post event issues must be dealt with, not trivialised.
  9. Through social media it is possible to post inappropriate comments, photos and videos online unobtrusively. Ramifications from inappropriate posts include damage to individuals' reputations, corporate brand damage and formal complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment in which the posts may be used as evidence. Staff should receive training about the risks of social media, backed up by a robust social media policy.
  10. Be aware of age. Staff under the age of 18 should not be permitted or encouraged to consume alcohol. Older employees' needs should also be considered when planning venues, activities and entertainment.
  11. Remember, it is okay not to attend. For a variety of reasons some staff may choose not to participate in the end of year staff party. These individuals need not be interrogated about their reasons for not attending, or treated less favourably as a result.