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The office Christmas party: legal advice – 7 Dec 2006

There’s little the travel industry likes more than a good Christmas party, but there are a number of important legal issues to think about.

First, consider the day and time. A lunchtime function may be more convenient for those with childcare commitments, while a Friday night may exclude people of certain faiths.

Also, non-alcoholic beverages should be available for those that don’t drink (including on religious grounds), for those that have to drive and, just as importantly, to keep alcohol consumption down.

Employers can be liable for employees’ actions at work-related social functions, so remind all staff, in advance, that the company’s code of conduct still applies.

Any unwanted behaviour that goes on at the office party will have an impact in the workplace. In a recent case, an employee won damages after being fondled by her boss at a Christmas party.

Finally, managers should be careful not to make any promises at the party that could be a contractual commitment. In one instance, the court considered the environment in question meant that the manager did not intend a promise of a pay rise to be legally binding. However, this matter went to appeal, and the next employer may not be quite so lucky.

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