The work Christmas party season is in full swing by now. If your organisation has already had its Christmas party, hopefully everything went well and from a workplace law standpoint there were no issues that arose.
If your organisation is yet to have its annual gathering, hopefully all the risk management HR ‘boxes have been ticked’.
- All reasonable steps have been taken to prevent unacceptable behaviours from occurring at the work Christmas party
- Managers are aware of their responsibility to monitor and supervise at the function
- Employees have been reminded of applicable policies and behavioural standards (eg. Sexual harassment, bullying and OHS)
- Light alcohol and no alcohol options are available
In keeping with the lighthearted spirit of the festive season let’s visit three work Christmas party disasters that we discovered.
Top 3 Work Christmas Party Disasters
Coming in at number one would have to be the 2007 “party to end all parties” involving employees of a Sydney Telstra retail store. What started out as a work dinner function later that evening went awry at a nearby motel with a store employee having s*xual intercourse with another employee within the view and/or earshot of the three other employees. The employee responsible was ultimately dismissed but in order for Telstra to successfully defend its actions, the ensuing litigation went as far as the Full Bench of the then Australian Industrial Relations Commission1.
In the “what were they thinking” category is a 2002 work Christmas party at which a waitress served food and drinks to clients and other employees at a party held on work premises – while topless and in lingerie. A female employee was not invited to the party and was told, “It’s a party for the boys…you don’t need to worry about it.” Upon finding out about the presence of the topless waitress, the employee resigned from her employment and ultimately sought counselling in relation to the distress she felt at the time. Although the woman gave evidence that she would not have wanted to attend the party if she had known a topless waitress was going to be there, her complaint of s*x discrimination against her former employer was successful on the basis of her not being made to feel welcome to attend the Christmas party because of her gender2.
Perhaps in the “why bother” category is the 1999 case in which a male employee was dismissed after he exposed himself twice before approximately 50 company employees plus partners at a Christmas function, when performing what he considered to be a ‘party trick’ called the “Pelican”. Not surprisingly the Australian Industrial Relations Commission did not see any humour in the employee’s actions and dismissed his legal claim3.
We wish to thank our clients and stakeholders with whom we have worked throughout 2012 and would like to wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
During this period, our office will be closed from 24 December 2012 and will re-open on 7 January 2013.
1 Telstra v Streeter  AIRCFB 15 (24 February 2008)
2 Carter v Linuki Pty Ltd trading as Aussie Hire & Fitzgerald (EOD)  NSWADTAP 40 (22 August 2005)
3 S. Mason v Boyne Smelters Limited – 880/99 B Print R7701  AIRC 934 (20 August 1999)