by | Dec 6, 2019

To work party or not … that is the question!

By now, you’re probably well into planning and preparations for your annual team celebration in the lead up to the festive season.  For many employers though, the thought of a work party makes them nervous – and for good reason.

It can be hard to enforce standards of conduct at functions, especially where alcohol is served.  Perhaps you’re wary having had a bad experience at previous parties, where one of your team may have overdone things or you’ve worried about whether someone should have been driving home.  Alcohol-fueled arguments, incidents and other not-so-appropriate behaviour is so often the fall-out of these events.

Work Parties – What are your responsibilities?

Employers have a duty of care to treat employees fairly and reasonably, and to provide a safe workplace, to the extent that it is reasonably practicable.  Regardless of whether the party takes place at the office or off-site, employers are responsible for providing a safe environment.  This means keeping employees safe from harm, harassment or discrimination including, but not limited to, discrimination based on disability, age, race or religion.

The last thing you want as an employer – after having gone to the trouble and expense of a work function – is to end up having to terminate an employee because they’ve had too much to drink and have behaved inappropriately or have posed a safety risk to themselves or others.

An employers’ duty of care does not necessarily stop when the work party ends. Even once staff have left the organised event, the employer may still be liable if an incident occurs following the event. The standard that usually applies is that the employer has a duty of care to the employees while they engage in any activity reasonably associated with attending a work function. This may include travel to and from the function but ceases when the employee is deemed to be going off on a “frolic of their own”.

Employees also have an obligation to ensure they keep themselves and their colleagues safe.

Why risk it?  What are the benefits?

The annual party is a great morale-booster and an opportunity for you as employer to acknowledge the hard work of your team and their achievements throughout the year.  That feeling of being a collective unit where there is no better time to use the phrase “all for one and one for all”, and where everyone feels like they are striving for that one goal, can get the whole organisation fired up in a positive way – provided it’s done right.

It is also a great opportunity to collaborate and strengthen networks, where team members meet their colleagues from other parts of the business who they may not normally work with day to day.  It allows people the opportunity to be able to put a face to a name that they may have only ever ‘met’ via email.

Tips for Success

Employers need to decide whether or not they’re going to serve alcohol.  More and more companies have shied away from serving alcohol at work events, simply because it can be difficult to manage.   However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to host a successful event where alcohol is in the mix.

These simple steps will help employers maximise their work party being a success by minimising their risk, helping to keep things orderly – and fun! – and ensuring they’ve considered their employee’s needs:

  • Before the party set expectations, letting employees know inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated and normal disciplinary procedures will apply. And make sure you and your leaders also model good behaviour.
  • Designate a Senior Manager to stay alcohol-free. They can keep an eye out for any unacceptable or potentially dangerous behaviour, and intervene if needed.
  • As the employer, you’re the host. Implement host responsibility provisions, ensuring you serve food
  • Offer a variety of drinks, not just alcohol.
  • Limit the tab and don’t serve intoxicated persons. Make sure waiters and bar staff know this.
  • Plan activities – giving your employees something else to do other than just drinking and eating. Maybe dancing, pool, bowling or giant games.
  • Consider how your staff will get home safely, offering transport options if possible.
  • Consider the time of the party – will parents be able to arrange childcare at the time of your party?
  • Consider the different religious and cultural requirements of your staff – will some faiths be able to make the day of your party? Is there food available to meet any special requirements?
  • Consider if you need to provide any physical assistance for any disabled staff.
  • Remind staff that you expect them to come into work on time their next working day!


The most important thing of all is to use the event as an occasion for everyone in the organisation to celebrate, relax and have a great time.  After all, it’s not every day that you think of the words “work” and “party” in the same sentence!


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