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The Season to Be Cautious

The Season to Be Cautious

14 December 2017 - With New Zealand employers on high alert following high profile sexual assault revelations, the traditional “get boozy on the company tab” routine is being supressed this year.

Senior Employment Relations Adviser Melodi James from Employsure, offers detailed guidance for companies throwing office parties. ‘When it comes to seasonal celebrations, even if an event is held outside of working hours and the workplace, an employer can still be liable,’ she warns. ‘A business will only have a defence if it can show it took all reasonable steps to prevent the act.’

‘If the work Christmas party is organised and paid for by the employer, the duty of care remains the same as though it was in the workplace – even if it’s held outside normal working hours. Employers are therefore advised to clearly outline what is inappropriate behaviour and what the repercussions can be if misconduct takes place.”

Melodi suggests employers get clear on what behaviour is unacceptable, for example “the use of illegal drugs, unlawful or inappropriate discrimination or harassment, violence, or inappropriate language.”

Employers are also advised of their obligations in ensuring staff get home safely. If an employee is injured on their way home from the function there is a fair chance the employer could be faced with a workers’ compensation claim. As such, preparing transport home is a highly effective way to minimise the risk employers face in this case.

Melodi says employers should also remind staff about the serious consequences of drinking and driving: “Consuming alcohol or drugs prior to driving is irresponsible and illegal. You must remind staff about legal drinking limits and offer alternative arrangements such as public transport or taxis.”

“Employers should recognise even though alcohol and drugs aren’t always the reason for unprofessional behaviour, creating an environment which encourages overconsumption certainly contributes to it.”

Christmas and end of year events are often enjoyable nights, and if employers take precautionary measures they can ensure an enjoyable night for everyone.


Melodi James is a Senior Employment Relations Adviser at Employsure, the largest provider of employment regulations and workplace health and safety advice for SMEs across New Zealand. She has extensive experience in all manner of employment relations issues and is known for her pragmatic and commercial approach in this area.

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