WORK PARTY: Could that get me arrested?
WHETHER you're heading to the Cri for a few bevvies, or throwing the 'house party of the year', Christmas parties can be a minefield of legal issues.
What you might not have known, is that despite the well-known saying, employees should not count on what happens at the annual work Christmas party to stay at the party, accordingly to Slater and Gordon Principal Lawyer Aron Neilson.
"The Christmas party is considered a work function, so employers have a duty to ensure a safe environment, but employees also need to remember that inappropriate behaviour could cost them their job," Mr Neilson said.
"There are certainly cases around Australia where workers have been fired due to their actions at end of year celebrations, including:
- An IT worker who was dismissed after drinking 12-15 beers at his work Christmas party at Darling Harbour, Sydney and urinated over a balcony onto restaurant customers below.
- A man who was fired after drunkenly pushing his fully-clothed manager into a pool during the office Christmas party in Fremantle, WA, before swearing at the General Manager and starting a physical fight.
- A NSW police officer who was almost fired, but instead given a formal warning after he showed his colleagues his 'party trick' by opening their beer bottles with his genital piercing.
- A kickboxing trainer in Melbourne who was dismissed after lying about his sick wife as an excuse to leave his work's end-of-year awards night early to attend a competitor's Christmas function.
Mr Neilson said because the office Christmas party is deemed a work function, employers can also be held responsible for their employees' actions.
"There are two main questions a court will consider when determining whether an employer is liable for any injury suffered by an employee at a Christmas party," Mr Neilson said.
"The first question is whether the employee's conduct is for the purpose of and in connection with the business and the second is whether the conduct could be seen as being within the 'course of employment'.
"In the eyes of the law, there is a connection between the workplace and end-of-year celebrations, so discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace health and safety obligations apply and have been enforced in situations including:
- A sexual discrimination complaint upheld against a Sydney business for not inviting the only female staff member to the Christmas party, so they could hire a topless waitress to which she had objected.
- A workers compensation case in the ACT where an employee twisted her ankle, fell over and broke her leg at the Christmas party,