Is organising the end of year christmas party giving you a headache? Relax…there’s a policy for that!

In today’s fast paced and ever-changing workplace, the most effective way to manage people and performance is to have well- written policy documents in place and ensure that employees are both aware of and have easy access to them.

Policies and procedures prescribe how a business will function and exactly what expectations and responsibilities are placed on employees to ensure the business goals and plans align with expected performance and conduct.

With the Christmas party season well and truly upon us, advising your employees of expected standards of behaviour will ensure you are managing your legal responsibilities and help keep the “fun” in your Christmas function.

Workplace lawyer Simon Millman advises, “Before the event, it’s important to be clear with staff about the company’s relevant rules such as their Code of Conduct, anti-discrimination and workplace bullying policies; and social media policies.”

“If something goes wrong, employers could end up being sued for sexual harassment or negligence depending on the circumstances or the extent of the actions,” he adds.

Many businesses take this opportunity to dust off the policies that have been sitting in the HR folder for the past year, reminding employees that the same standards of behaviour are expected at a work function as in the office or clinic.

Employers have a heightened duty of care when engaging with employees at events where alcohol is provided by the company. It is important that employees are told: Just because you may have been under the influence, this does not excuse comments or actions that would not be acceptable in the workplace.

Know your policies

A Code of Conduct policy will identify exactly what expectations you have of your employees in the workplace. It sets standards for ethical conduct and behaviour and usually includes issues such as expected behaviour and personal and professional responsibilities when dealing with staff, colleagues and customers. It can also set standards for dress, grooming and appearance and the use of the organisation’s facilities and resources.

Having both an Anti-Discrimination and Harassment & Bullying Policy is a must in any organisation and they go hand in hand with a Grievance Policy outlining how any breaches should be reported and how they will be dealt with.

Australian Business Lawyers Blog advises that, “Employers can be liable for inappropriate statements and conduct that occurs at work- related Christmas celebrations.” Further pointing out, “Particular danger areas include ‘Kris Kringle’ gift giving, joke staff ‘awards’, and skits/performances that may offend certain groups.”

Moving with the times means having a well thought out Social Media Policy. With the escalating use of social media, both personally and to enhance an employer’s products, services and/or brand recognition, employers need to ensure they have a policy that provides strict guidelines on the way in which employees and contractors are allowed to engage in social media whether authorised to do so or not.

Employers have the right to prescribe standards of communication for social media platforms as it relates to their business, whether directly or indirectly. And this extends to the Christmas party! Beware of posts on FaceBook or Snapchat that may embarrass, humiliate or offend.

Recent cases heard by the Fair Work Tribunal in which harassment via social media was ruled as workplace bullying have had employers scrambling to update or implement social media policies to ensure that employees do not resort to this new harassment tool and ensure they fully understand the consequences of such actions if they do.

How to develop policies

christmas party

When both writing and rolling out new policy, it is essential to have senior management support, especially where policies relate to employee behaviour. The CEO, managers and supervisors should not only endorse but also model the behaviour the policy dictates if they want staff to take them seriously.

Plan. Consult. Research

It’s considered best practice to involve staff in developing and implementing workplace policies. This will ensure you promote; awareness, understanding, ownership and compliance.

Research what a good policy looks like and see what other organisations are doing. There is never a “one size fits all” when it comes to workplace policy so be sure that the policy is relevant to your workplace issues and includes scenarios that are specific to your business. Resist the urge to copy and paste as the relevance and also the effectiveness of your policy will be lost.

When writing policy, it is important to be direct and to the point. An effective policy will be explicit about: who the policy applies to, for example both employees and contractors; what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; why it is important to follow this policy; and the consequences of beaching the policy – which may include disciplinary action or termination of employment.

Implementing policy

To be effective, policies need to be publicised and provided to all existing and new employees.
Effective measures of ensuring employees know about and understand a policy is to hold an information or training session highlighting that particular policy.

Copies of the policies should be easily assessable to all staff. A Policy Booklet can be maintained in the staff lunch room and a well-publicised folder maintained on the shared drive of the business intranet system or server will ensure employees can readily access information when needed.

Compliance & review

Consistency is key to managing compliance with policy. Any breaches of policy should be dealt with promptly and according to the procedures set out in the policy.

Having these well thought out ahead of time will help ensure swift and fair resolution. Depending on the severity of the breach the consequences may be a verbal warning, a formal written warning or even dismissal.

Remember to review your policies regularly to ensure they are current and in line with changes in your organisation as well as changes to workplace and common law.

When a policy has changed, it is crucial to re-issue it to staff ensuring they understand the changes and how they apply to them.

What’s in a policy?

Policies are the rules and methods of conducting business which reference internal controls, best practices and legislation.
A policy outlines business direction and requirements, but not the specifics of implementation. It is important to remember that a policy is not a procedure.

Countdown to Christmas

Two weeks before the party
– Hold a short training and information session to remind employees and managers of the standard of conduct required at work functions.
– Reinforce the relevant policies including: Code of Conduct, Drugs and Alcohol, Harassment & – Bullying, Social Media and also your Discipline Policy.

The week of the party
Circulate an email reminding all employees of their responsibility and include information relating to:
– Expected behaviour at the party
– Start and finish time of the function
– Transport options
– Requests to cater for special dietary
– List of names and numbers of contacts in the event an incident or accident occurs

During the party
– Ensure responsible service and consumption of alcohol
– Provide appropriate quantities of food and non-alcoholic beverages
– Monitor staff to assess if appropriate transport arrangements have been made when alcoholic beverages are consumed
– Take appropriate and timely action if issues arise

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