Christmas party coming up? Here's how to dance around an hr hangover

Updated: May 4

We’ve finally ticked over to daylight savings, decorations are popping up in the malls and Santa parades are on the radar, which means only one thing: the silly season has arrived!

It’s an exciting time of year and if you own or manage a business, you’ll probably start noticing your team beginning to wind down a little and gear up for the summer holidays. But more importantly, you’ll start hearing a lot of chatter around what your office will be doing for the annual Christmas party.

Truth be told - we’re a big fan of staff Christmas parties! Who doesn’t love knocking back a few glasses of bubbles, letting loose on the dancefloor and reflecting on the year that was with their workmates? However, as much as we love letting our hair down, if you’ve ever been to a Christmas party before, you’re probably already familiar with just how wrong they can go.

So, if you’re organising this years Christmas-Do, how do you keep things fun, but under control?

The answer? Get planning.

In all our years of experience, here’s what we’ve learned about planning the perfect work-do, keeping everyone safe and avoiding an HR hangover - while still having a night to remember.


PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

We can’t say it enough. If you want a night that goes smoothly and doesn’t induce any HR-hiccups, you’ve got to do the legwork before the night. That means covering the ‘4 W’s’ of party planning from the get-go, and making sure your team is all on board.

WHEN?

Deciding the big date shouldn’t just be dependant on when the last working day before Christmas is - there are other factors to consider.

  • If your workplace operates from Monday to Friday, it’s a good idea to consider hosting your Christmas function on a Friday or Saturday night. This means that your team won’t have to worry about work the next day, and you won’t have to worry about teammates showing up hungover or not showing up at all.

  • Of course, some businesses operate seven-days a week. If this is the case, pick a day that suits your workplace best once schedules, projects and team members are accounted for.


WHERE?

Our biggest piece of advice: if budget allows it, make sure to take your event offsite to a different venue. Not only does this give the team a chance to stretch their legs further than the office front door and take their working relationships into the big wide world, it’s a great way to manage safety.

  • Venues, especially licensed venues, are designed for lots of people and have plans in place to make sure everyone’s safe - including onsite security and host (alcohol) responsibility, which lowers your health and safety risks. This usually includes solutions to accessibility issues, which is really important if you have employees with accessibility challenges. Always stay inclusive.

  • When considering the where, be a good, considerate company and think through exactly where you’re having the party in terms of proximity to transport. If you plan your party in the middle of nowhere or a remote location, it’s a bit unfair to expect everyone to pay for taxis to their homes from the event - and if you don’t want to cover those costs, it’s best to make sure there’s safe, public transport accessible.

  • If you have employees that are under 18, make sure you check with any venue you’re considering whether or not they’ll legally be able to enter the premises. No one likes being told they can’t sit with the big kids!

HR TIP: Make sure that your party ends in time for people to use public transport, message your team advising them to sort out transport prior to the party, and we’d recommend actively discouraging the use of e-scooters. There’s enough evidence out there suggesting that alcohol + e-scooter = bad time. Once the party is over and you’ve made sure your team leave safely (see below) your responsibility ends. If they want to party on afterwards that’s ok, but it’s not on you.

What?

This one covers the finer details of food and alcohol - what will you be supplying? We’ve all seen the mistakes of that one friend who forgot to eat before a big night out… and that friend is the reason it’s key to have a steady flow of food alongside your drinks.

  • If your party is at a licensed premises they’ll help you plan this by ensuring the controlled supply of alcohol, sufficient low and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as enough food.

  • Wherever you party, ensure you have planned enough food or have a catering team on deck to counter the late-night hungries - balance is key. Don’t be afraid to chase up the caterers if the food isn’t coming out as fast as people are sinking drinks!

HR TIP: Consider having some sober staff organised and on hand, who don’t drink too much so that they can keep an eye on things and make sure no one is getting out of control or being a dick. Nothing good comes out of a party where no-one remembers a damn thing - save yourself the grief should anything bad go down and have people at the ready who have the ability to handle the situation.

WHY?

When you’re knee-deep in a party planning session, it’s easy to forget the ‘why’. Having an end of year party isn’t just a chance to take off your ‘professional hat’ and put on you ‘party hat’ - it’s an opportunity to thank your team for the efforts and give a shout-out to your colleagues who’ve been rolling up their sleeves and getting shit done throughout the year. Put aside some time to do just that. Heck, even write a speech and use the opportunity whilst you have everyone in the same room.

Just remember, you want to make it a night to remember, not a party you would rather forget!!


SO THE PARTY IS IN FULL SWING AND THINGS “COME TO BLOWS”

Scenario One: Drunken Fighting

Lucy and Sue have a rough work history, however they were acting civilly towards each other at the beginning of the party, but with the alcohol flowing, all of a sudden a physical fight breaks out between them and when their manager comes over to break it up, Sue drunkenly pushes him, before drunkenly swearing at other staff members who try to step in.

HR TIP:

You should always consider the circumstances of the incident carefully and decide what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken - do not do this on the night of course. You don’t want to make any rash decisions and also want to ensure you carefully consider what may be a reasonable response after you have investigated thoroughly want went on.

If different sanctions are imposed, they should be carefully considered and explained. You should also consider after thorough investigation, what actions are appropriate for each employee, depending on different acts of misconduct if the severity of their behaviour differs. You should always check your employment policies around misconduct and serious misconduct in this regard.

Whilst conduct at a work-related social event is arguably inextricably linked to an individual’s employment, employees may have an expectation that what they do outside of working hours is not subject to the usual company standards of behaviour. It will usually be safe to assume that behaviour at a social event arranged and subsidised by your business will be considered work-related, but take advice if you are unsure. Areas of uncertainty may open up where employees arrange their own celebrations or ‘move on’ from the ‘official’ Christmas party to another venue.

Always seek advice if you are unsure, but don’t leave it weeks before you decide to action any disciplinary process - tackle the issue quickly.


Scenario Two: Wandering Hands - Sexual Harassment

Jamie has had a fun night (and a few beers) and the party is in full swing with a fair bit of drinking and frivolity going on. Jamie has always fancied Alex and whilst this is not common knowledge, it has not gone unnoticed by a few staff that he has been paying her a lot of attention, but they both seem to be enjoying each others company.

Fast-forward to Monday morning and Alex asks to meet with her manager where she states that she is very upset with Jamie and accuses him of being inappropriate which made her feel very uncomfortable. She says he was touching her inappropriately at the party and when she had asked him to stop he laughed it off and made her feel like she had led him on.


HR TIP:

Let’s be clear, there is no place for sexual harassment at work - employers must promote a zero tolerance to it.

We also know that situations like this can come down to a he said, she said, situation and in many cases can be difficult to prove. Where situations are not dealt with appropriately, these events can lead to personal grievance (PG) claims against the company, claiming that policy and expectations around behaviour may not have been met to protect both staff members.

So what do you do? You should follow some general principles as below and if you are unsure how to action a claim of sexual harassment, you should seek advice immediately: -

  • First things first - act promptly Set timelines and deal with reports as soon as you can after you receive them. Carefully and clearly consider response options for the specific circumstance.

  • Clearly communicate the process Tell everyone involved what the process is. Let the people involved know if there are delays to timelines.

  • Protect the people involved Protect all the people involved (including both sides of the complaint, support people and witnesses) from victimisation (e.g. being punished, bullied, intimidated).

  • Support the people involved Anyone involved can have a support person present at interviews or meetings (e.g. in-house support person, friend, legal representative). Tell everyone involved what support and representation is available to them (e.g. do you have an employee assistance programme, or other trained people who can provide ongoing care and support?).

  • Maintain confidentiality Ensure details of the matter are only known to those directly concerned (including their representative or support person) and those involved in investigating and considering the reported behaviour.

  • Treat everyone involved fairly Get relevant advice to look into the report of sexual harassment. Make decisions based on the facts. Clearly tell the people involved what you are going to do (taking into account privacy).

  • Keep good documentation Ensure actions and decisions are documented. Store all information securely and where access is restricted.

THE NITTY GRITTY

Hopefully, the above hasn’t scared you off celebrating a successful year with your staff. Just remember with enough foresight, planning and clear communication to staff about company expectations around behaviour, you won’t have any HR issues on your hands on Monday morning after the Christmas party.

In saying that, even the most prepared parties and responsible venues can turn into a little bit of a circus with Christmas and summer holidays just around the corner.

The message for employers is that it is your responsibility to ensure a safe work environment, even at the silly season party, and to be mindful of the amount of alcohol on offer. Employers are advised to reiterate that the company's relevant policies, including your sexual and/or bullying and harassment policy still apply at a party.

If the unexpected does occur, the main thing to remember is to make sure you follow your policies and processes to a T, and when in doubt, seek advice. Don’t just sweep the issues under the rug - they’ll come back to bite you later!PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

We can’t say it enough. If you want a night that goes smoothly and doesn’t induce any HR-hiccups, you’ve got to do the legwork before the night. That means covering the ‘4 W’s’ of party planning from the get-go, and making sure your team is all on board.

WHEN?

Deciding the big date shouldn’t just be dependant on when the last working day before Christmas is - there are other factors to consider.

  • If your workplace operates from Monday to Friday, it’s a good idea to consider hosting your Christmas function on a Friday or Saturday night. This means that your team won’t have to worry about work the next day, and you won’t have to worry about teammates showing up hungover or not showing up at all.

  • Of course, some businesses operate seven-days a week. If this is the case, pick a day that suits your workplace best once schedules, projects and team members are accounted for.


WHERE?

Our biggest piece of advice: if budget allows it, make sure to take your event offsite to a different venue. Not only does this give the team a chance to stretch their legs further than the office front door and take their working relationships into the big wide world, it’s a great way to manage safety.

  • Venues, especially licensed venues, are designed for lots of people and have plans in place to make sure everyone’s safe - including onsite security and host (alcohol) responsibility, which lowers your health and safety risks. This usually includes solutions to accessibility issues, which is really important if you have employees with accessibility challenges. Always stay inclusive.

  • When considering the where, be a good, considerate company and think through exactly where you’re having the party in terms of proximity to transport. If you plan your party in the middle of nowhere or a remote location, it’s a bit unfair to expect everyone to pay for taxis to their homes from the event - and if you don’t want to cover those costs, it’s best to make sure there’s safe, public transport accessible.

  • If you have employees that are under 18, make sure you check with any venue you’re considering whether or not they’ll legally be able to enter the premises. No one likes being told they can’t sit with the big kids!

HR TIP: Make sure that your party ends in time for people to use public transport, message your team advising them to sort out transport prior to the party, and we’d recommend actively discouraging the use of e-scooters. There’s enough evidence out there suggesting that alcohol + e-scooter = bad time. Once the party is over and you’ve made sure your team leave safely (see below) your responsibility ends. If they want to party on afterwards that’s ok, but it’s not on you.

What?

This one covers the finer details of food and alcohol - what will you be supplying? We’ve all seen the mistakes of that one friend who forgot to eat before a big night out… and that friend is the reason it’s key to have a steady flow of food alongside your drinks.

  • If your party is at a licensed premises they’ll help you plan this by ensuring the controlled supply of alcohol, sufficient low and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as enough food.

  • Wherever you party, ensure you have planned enough food or have a catering team on deck to counter the late-night hungries - balance is key. Don’t be afraid to chase up the caterers if the food isn’t coming out as fast as people are sinking drinks!

HR TIP: Consider having some sober staff organised and on hand, who don’t drink too much so that they can keep an eye on things and make sure no one is getting out of control or being a dick. Nothing good comes out of a party where no-one remembers a damn thing - save yourself the grief should anything bad go down and have people at the ready who have the ability to handle the situation.

WHY?

When you’re knee-deep in a party planning session, it’s easy to forget the ‘why’. Having an end of year party isn’t just a chance to take off your ‘professional hat’ and put on you ‘party hat’ - it’s an opportunity to thank your team for the efforts and give a shout-out to your colleagues who’ve been rolling up their sleeves and getting shit done throughout the year. Put aside some time to do just that. Heck, even write a speech and use the opportunity whilst you have everyone in the same room.

Just remember, you want to make it a night to remember, not a party you would rather forget!!


SO THE PARTY IS IN FULL SWING AND THINGS “COME TO BLOWS”

Scenario One: Drunken Fighting

Lucy and Sue have a rough work history, however they were acting civilly towards each other at the beginning of the party, but with the alcohol flowing, all of a sudden a physical fight breaks out between them and when their manager comes over to break it up, Sue drunkenly pushes him, before drunkenly swearing at other staff members who try to step in.

HR TIP:

You should always consider the circumstances of the incident carefully and decide what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken - do not do this on the night of course. You don’t want to make any rash decisions and also want to ensure you carefully consider what may be a reasonable response after you have investigated thoroughly want went on.

If different sanctions are imposed, they should be carefully considered and explained. You should also consider after thorough investigation, what actions are appropriate for each employee, depending on different acts of misconduct if the severity of their behaviour differs. You should always check your employment policies around misconduct and serious misconduct in this regard.

Whilst conduct at a work-related social event is arguably inextricably linked to an individual’s employment, employees may have an expectation that what they do outside of working hours is not subject to the usual company standards of behaviour. It will usually be safe to assume that behaviour at a social event arranged and subsidised by your business will be considered work-related, but take advice if you are unsure. Areas of uncertainty may open up where employees arrange their own celebrations or ‘move on’ from the ‘official’ Christmas party to another venue.

Always seek advice if you are unsure, but don’t leave it weeks before you decide to action any disciplinary process - tackle the issue quickly.


Scenario Two: Wandering Hands - Sexual Harassment

Jamie has had a fun night (and a few beers) and the party is in full swing with a fair bit of drinking and frivolity going on. Jamie has always fancied Alex and whilst this is not common knowledge, it has not gone unnoticed by a few staff that he has been paying her a lot of attention, but they both seem to be enjoying each others company.

Fast-forward to Monday morning and Alex asks to meet with her manager where she states that she is very upset with Jamie and accuses him of being inappropriate which made her feel very uncomfortable. She says he was touching her inappropriately at the party and when she had asked him to stop he laughed it off and made her feel like she had led him on.


HR TIP:

Let’s be clear, there is no place for sexual harassment at work - employers must promote a zero tolerance to it.

We also know that situations like this can come down to a he said, she said, situation and in many cases can be difficult to prove. Where situations are not dealt with appropriately, these events can lead to personal grievance (PG) claims against the company, claiming that policy and expectations around behaviour may not have been met to protect both staff members.

So what do you do? You should follow some general principles as below and if you are unsure how to action a claim of sexual harassment, you should seek advice immediately: -

  • First things first - act promptly Set timelines and deal with reports as soon as you can after you receive them. Carefully and clearly consider response options for the specific circumstance.

  • Clearly communicate the process Tell everyone involved what the process is. Let the people involved know if there are delays to timelines.

  • Protect the people involved Protect all the people involved (including both sides of the complaint, support people and witnesses) from victimisation (e.g. being punished, bullied, intimidated).

  • Support the people involved Anyone involved can have a support person present at interviews or meetings (e.g. in-house support person, friend, legal representative). Tell everyone involved what support and representation is available to them (e.g. do you have an employee assistance programme, or other trained people who can provide ongoing care and support?).

  • Maintain confidentiality Ensure details of the matter are only known to those directly concerned (including their representative or support person) and those involved in investigating and considering the reported behaviour.

  • Treat everyone involved fairly Get relevant advice to look into the report of sexual harassment. Make decisions based on the facts. Clearly tell the people involved what you are going to do (taking into account privacy).

  • Keep good documentation Ensure actions and decisions are documented. Store all information securely and where access is restricted.

THE NITTY GRITTY

Hopefully, the above hasn’t scared you off celebrating a successful year with your staff. Just remember with enough foresight, planning and clear communication to staff about company expectations around behaviour, you won’t have any HR issues on your hands on Monday morning after the Christmas party.

In saying that, even the most prepared parties and responsible venues can turn into a little bit of a circus with Christmas and summer holidays just around the corner.

The message for employers is that it is your responsibility to ensure a safe work environment, even at the silly season party, and to be mindful of the amount of alcohol on offer. Employers are advised to reiterate that the company's relevant policies, including your sexual and/or bullying and harassment policy still apply at a party.

If the unexpected does occur, the main thing to remember is to make sure you follow your policies and processes to a T, and when in doubt, seek advice. Don’t just sweep the issues under the rug - they’ll come back to bite you later!PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

We can’t say it enough. If you want a night that goes smoothly and doesn’t induce any HR-hiccups, you’ve got to do the legwork before the night. That means covering the ‘4 W’s’ of party planning from the get-go, and making sure your team is all on board.

WHEN?

Deciding the big date shouldn’t just be dependant on when the last working day before Christmas is - there are other factors to consider.

  • If your workplace operates from Monday to Friday, it’s a good idea to consider hosting your Christmas function on a Friday or Saturday night. This means that your team won’t have to worry about work the next day, and you won’t have to worry about teammates showing up hungover or not showing up at all.

  • Of course, some businesses operate seven-days a week. If this is the case, pick a day that suits your workplace best once schedules, projects and team members are accounted for.


WHERE?

Our biggest piece of advice: if budget allows it, make sure to take your event offsite to a different venue. Not only does this give the team a chance to stretch their legs further than the office front door and take their working relationships into the big wide world, it’s a great way to manage safety.

  • Venues, especially licensed venues, are designed for lots of people and have plans in place to make sure everyone’s safe - including onsite security and host (alcohol) responsibility, which lowers your health and safety risks. This usually includes solutions to accessibility issues, which is really important if you have employees with accessibility challenges. Always stay inclusive.

  • When considering the where, be a good, considerate company and think through exactly where you’re having the party in terms of proximity to transport. If you plan your party in the middle of nowhere or a remote location, it’s a bit unfair to expect everyone to pay for taxis to their homes from the event - and if you don’t want to cover those costs, it’s best to make sure there’s safe, public transport accessible.

  • If you have employees that are under 18, make sure you check with any venue you’re considering whether or not they’ll legally be able to enter the premises. No one likes being told they can’t sit with the big kids!

HR TIP: Make sure that your party ends in time for people to use public transport, message your team advising them to sort out transport prior to the party, and we’d recommend actively discouraging the use of e-scooters. There’s enough evidence out there suggesting that alcohol + e-scooter = bad time. Once the party is over and you’ve made sure your team leave safely (see below) your responsibility ends. If they want to party on afterwards that’s ok, but it’s not on you.

What?

This one covers the finer details of food and alcohol - what will you be supplying? We’ve all seen the mistakes of that one friend who forgot to eat before a big night out… and that friend is the reason it’s key to have a steady flow of food alongside your drinks.

  • If your party is at a licensed premises they’ll help you plan this by ensuring the controlled supply of alcohol, sufficient low and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as enough food.

  • Wherever you party, ensure you have planned enough food or have a catering team on deck to counter the late-night hungries - balance is key. Don’t be afraid to chase up the caterers if the food isn’t coming out as fast as people are sinking drinks!

HR TIP: Consider having some sober staff organised and on hand, who don’t drink too much so that they can keep an eye on things and make sure no one is getting out of control or being a dick. Nothing good comes out of a party where no-one remembers a damn thing - save yourself the grief should anything bad go down and have people at the ready who have the ability to handle the situation.

WHY?

When you’re knee-deep in a party planning session, it’s easy to forget the ‘why’. Having an end of year party isn’t just a chance to take off your ‘professional hat’ and put on you ‘party hat’ - it’s an opportunity to thank your team for the efforts and give a shout-out to your colleagues who’ve been rolling up their sleeves and getting shit done throughout the year. Put aside some time to do just that. Heck, even write a speech and use the opportunity whilst you have everyone in the same room.

Just remember, you want to make it a night to remember, not a party you would rather forget!!


SO THE PARTY IS IN FULL SWING AND THINGS “COME TO BLOWS”

Scenario One: Drunken Fighting

Lucy and Sue have a rough work history, however they were acting civilly towards each other at the beginning of the party, but with the alcohol flowing, all of a sudden a physical fight breaks out between them and when their manager comes over to break it up, Sue drunkenly pushes him, before drunkenly swearing at other staff members who try to step in.

HR TIP:

You should always consider the circumstances of the incident carefully and decide what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken - do not do this on the night of course. You don’t want to make any rash decisions and also want to ensure you carefully consider what may be a reasonable response after you have investigated thoroughly want went on.

If different sanctions are imposed, they should be carefully considered and explained. You should also consider after thorough investigation, what actions are appropriate for each employee, depending on different acts of misconduct if the severity of their behaviour differs. You should always check your employment policies around misconduct and serious misconduct in this regard.

Whilst conduct at a work-related social event is arguably inextricably linked to an individual’s employment, employees may have an expectation that what they do outside of working hours is not subject to the usual company standards of behaviour. It will usually be safe to assume that behaviour at a social event arranged and subsidised by your business will be considered work-related, but take advice if you are unsure. Areas of uncertainty may open up where employees arrange their own celebrations or ‘move on’ from the ‘official’ Christmas party to another venue.

Always seek advice if you are unsure, but don’t leave it weeks before you decide to action any disciplinary process - tackle the issue quickly.


Scenario Two: Wandering Hands - Sexual Harassment

Jamie has had a fun night (and a few beers) and the party is in full swing with a fair bit of drinking and frivolity going on. Jamie has always fancied Alex and whilst this is not common knowledge, it has not gone unnoticed by a few staff that he has been paying her a lot of attention, but they both seem to be enjoying each others company.

Fast-forward to Monday morning and Alex asks to meet with her manager where she states that she is very upset with Jamie and accuses him of being inappropriate which made her feel very uncomfortable. She says he was touching her inappropriately at the party and when she had asked him to stop he laughed it off and made her feel like she had led him on.


HR TIP:

Let’s be clear, there is no place for sexual harassment at work - employers must promote a zero tolerance to it.

We also know that situations like this can come down to a he said, she said, situation and in many cases can be difficult to prove. Where situations are not dealt with appropriately, these events can lead to personal grievance (PG) claims against the company, claiming that policy and expectations around behaviour may not have been met to protect both staff members.

So what do you do? You should follow some general principles as below and if you are unsure how to action a claim of sexual harassment, you should seek advice immediately: -

  • First things first - act promptly Set timelines and deal with reports as soon as you can after you receive them. Carefully and clearly consider response options for the specific circumstance.

  • Clearly communicate the process Tell everyone involved what the process is. Let the people involved know if there are delays to timelines.

  • Protect the people involved Protect all the people involved (including both sides of the complaint, support people and witnesses) from victimisation (e.g. being punished, bullied, intimidated).

  • Support the people involved Anyone involved can have a support person present at interviews or meetings (e.g. in-house support person, friend, legal representative). Tell everyone involved what support and representation is available to them (e.g. do you have an employee assistance programme, or other trained people who can provide ongoing care and support?).

  • Maintain confidentiality Ensure details of the matter are only known to those directly concerned (including their representative or support person) and those involved in investigating and considering the reported behaviour.

  • Treat everyone involved fairly Get relevant advice to look into the report of sexual harassment. Make decisions based on the facts. Clearly tell the people involved what you are going to do (taking into account privacy).

  • Keep good documentation Ensure actions and decisions are documented. Store all information securely and where access is restricted.

THE NITTY GRITTY<