Too many glasses of wine are a no-no at work Christmas functions.
Too many glasses of wine are a no-no at work Christmas functions. Emma Channon

Avoid the work Christmas party legal hangover

FROM workers swearing at the boss to booze-fuelled attempts to hit on colleagues, there are plenty of office Christmas party horror stories.

But the aftermath of drunken antics at the festivities can go far beyond a red face on Monday morning.

As companies across the region prepare to celebrate a year of hard work, legal experts are warning bad behaviour at the office function can leave a legal hangover lasting long after the silly season.

Employees can be sacked over indiscretions while bosses face legal strife, including being sued for sexual harassment or negligence, if they are not responsible hosts.

The sobering message is one reinforced by industrial and employment lawyer Simon Millman, who stresses staff must remember it is a work function and all the usual rules apply.

"Avoid behaviour that you would normally consider to be completely inappropriate," advised Mr Millman, of Slater and Gordon Lawyers.

He said employers must be mindful of their responsibilities for workers at the event.

This can include supplying food and non-alcoholic drinks on the night and being clear about the company's code of conduct beforehand.

Social media is another area fraught with danger and Mr Millman recommends employees tread with caution and be aware of their firm's policy.

"It's the 11am-11pm rule - if the photo is not going to be appropriate at 11am, it's not going to be appropriate at 11pm," he said.

Queensland University of Technology Professor Paula McDonald has done extensive research around workplace sexual harassment and says it is the top concern at office parties.

Prof McDonald, from the university's Business School, said everyone in the company needed to be aware of what constituted sexual harassment and avoid crossing the line - regardless of the amount of alcohol involved.

"There are risks attached to the office Christmas party and unprofessional conduct that happens therein because the court sees that employer-sponsored social functions are an extension of the workplace," Prof McDonald said.

Monitoring the amount of alcohol supplied and putting a time limit on the event are among the precautions she suggests managers take.

"I think there needs to be really clear communication and a reminder to employees that this is work and while they encourage people to have a good time that the usual standards of professional behaviour, which are expected in the workplace, should carry over to the social function," she said. 

 Don't drink and hashtag

DRINKING and hashtagging can spell disaster for your career - that's the advice from a business behaviour expert who is advising workers to avoid the social media trap at the office bash.

Danielle Di-Masi, who specialises in digital behaviour and communications, warns professionals who hashtag their workplace in party snaps after too much Christmas cheer are taking a gamble.

"It's the number one thing that I've seen as a downfall for professionals," she said, adding that even if a post was taken down you never knew who had already seen it.

"It's the instant upload that can ruin your career."

Her next tip is to enjoy yourself but judge what is appropriate for the event, whether it be ultra conservative or on the wild side.

"Let your hair down but let it down professionally," she said.

She said people should see the office party as a chance to build relationships that could prosper in the New Year.

However, avoid monopolising a head honcho you don't normally have access to or angling for a pay rise.

"What you can be doing is to be taking the opportunity to connect with people and really find out who they are outside of work," she said.

Ms Di-Masi said employees should remember colleagues did not necessarily compartmentalise your behaviour at the office party and your competency levels.

"Just don't lose your whole year's worth of hard work and your professional reputation because there are free drinks and canapes."

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