Office party

RISKMAS 2023 – Deck The Halls With Safety and Compliance

"All I want for a safe & happy workplace!'

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé are now on repeat in every shopping centre around the country, which means it’s also time for us to drop the newest remix of our Riskmas series. Last year’s Riskmas blog covered some basic considerations for employers during the holiday season, and we’ve extended the list this year with some more food (plum pudding anyone?!) for thought!  

Fair Allocation of Holiday Shifts

The holiday season often requires a different approach to staffing, particularly in industries that experience increased demand. Employers should strive for a clear, transparent and equitable process when allocating holiday shifts and ensure communication lines remain opened throughout this period for all employees to minimise any potential perceptions of favouritism or discrimination.  

Additionally, in managing holiday shifts, employers should also consider the diverse needs of their employees. Accommodating reasonable requests for time off, offering greater  flexibility and ensuring that shifts are spread evenly where possible (no single group of employees should bear the brunt of holiday shifts!) can all contribute to an engaged workforce and positive working environment for all! 

You could even consider offering incentives for working certain shifts or allowing shift swaps among willing employees. 

Managing Public Holiday Pay and Entitlements

To ensure compliance to the Fair Work Act’s provisions regarding public holiday pay and entitlements, employers need to be sure they understand, adhere to and pay correct rates of pay and entitlements, including time of in lieu or additional annual leave requirements and business shut  down periods, accordingly. Make sure you are across your State’s provisions to avoid potential legal repercussions and a dissatisfied workforce.  

Workplace Safety During Decorations and Celebrations

We all love a bit of festive cheer, but it’s important to remember to be safe when putting up and removing any holidays decorations and lights and ensure that any potential safety hazards and risks are managed accordingly.  

While decorating the workplace, employers need to ensure that any decorations comply with fire safety regulations and do not obstruct emergency exits or pathways.  

Putting up holiday lights can pose an additional electrical safety hazard – make sure cords are not damaged and equipment is tagged and tested as required.  

For more information on workplace safety, check out our reposts from last month for National Work Safe Month!  

Remember, if you’re hosting a workplace holiday party or celebration, either at the workplace, or elsewhere (legal obligations still apply!) make sure you consider potential risks regarding food safety and allergies, especially if employees are contributing home cooked items and of course, ensure that any alcohol consumption is managed responsibly to prevent accidents, incidents or inappropriate behaviour. For more on being safe during workplace functions, read our entry in our Riskmas blog from last year here. 

Monitoring and Moderating Office Parties

A workplace party can go from great to horrible if risks are not identified, controlled and managed effectively. Parties can often present a high risk for inappropriate behaviour, including harassment or discrimination. It’s important for employers to set clear guidelines for conduct at these events and remind employees of the company’s policies on workplace behaviour prior to the event, in order to reduce any potential risks.  

If alcohol is served at the office party, employers should take steps to moderate consumption. This could include providing drink tickets to limit the number of alcoholic beverages, ensuring that non-alcoholic options are plentiful, and arranging transportation options for employees to get home safely. Employers might also consider appointing designated staff members to monitor the event and address any issues that arise.  

Wellbeing Support

Keep in mind that the holiday season can also be a time of increased stress (financial, family, socially) and some employees can experience heightened emotions at this time of year (loss of loved ones, loneliness). A timely reminder to employees about any Employee Assistance Programs or counselling services available to them would be beneficial, and creating a safe environment where employees can speak up and feel comfortable in talking through these challenges with their employers will help them feel supported during this time.   

Employers can also promote a healthy work-life balance during the holidays by encouraging employees to take breaks and utilise their leave entitlements. Proactively addressing the potential for holiday-related stress and burnout demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of your employees, enhancing morale, engagement and productivity.  

Respect for Diversity and Inclusion

With Australia’s culturally diverse workforce, it’s crucial for employers to approach holiday celebrations with sensitivity and inclusiveness. This means recognizing that not all employees may celebrate the same holidays. Employers should strive to create an inclusive environment where all cultural and religious observances are respected and no one feels like they’re forced to take part in any workplace celebrations. You could consider hosting a holiday party that is secular in nature or allowing employees to share their own holiday traditions within the workplace also.  

Also, employers should also be aware of and accommodate various dietary restrictions and preferences during any holiday events. Offering a variety of food options, including vegetarian, vegan, halal, and kosher choices, ensures that all employees can participate fully in the celebrations. 

Gift-Giving Policies

The exchange of gifts in the workplace during the holiday season, while well-intentioned, can sometimes lead to conflicts of interest or perceptions of impropriety. Employers should establish clear policies on gift-giving, setting out what is acceptable and what isn’t. This could include guidelines on the value of gifts and general rule of conduct when gift-giving for everyone to follow or prohibiting gifts between employees and their supervisor. Additionally, promoting a culture where gift-giving is not expected can relieve the pressure some employees may feel to participate, especially if they are in a financially difficult situation. 

Handling Leave Requests Fairly

The holiday season typically sees a surge in leave requests, so it’s best to be pre-pared with the know-how on how to handle them. Employers should handle leave requests in a fair and transparent manner, balancing the needs of the business with the personal needs of employees. A first-come, first-served approach or a rotation system for holiday leave can be effective methods for managing these requests.  

Communication is key in managing leave requests. Employers should inform staff of any blackout periods or essential staffing needs well in advance and provide clear criteria for how leave requests will be assessed. Offering flexibility, where possible, can also help accommodate employee needs without compromising business operations. 

Communication of Business Closure or Reduced Hours

If there are changes to business operations during the holiday season, such as closures or reduced hours, employers must communicate these changes clearly and well in advance. This allows employees to plan their own holiday schedules and ensures that there is no confusion about expectations. Employers should also provide information about how these changes will affect pay and leave entitlements. Ensuring that employees are aware of any adjustments to their schedules or pay in a timely manner is crucial for maintaining trust and transparency in the employer-employee relationship.  

Next steps

There’s a lot of things to consider and juggle this holiday season and workplace health and safety should be a top priority. Ensuring you have the right workplace policies in place can take a lot of the stress out of risk management in situations such as the ones we’ve outlined above. Have a look over your workplace policies to consider any gaps or areas that can be strengthened – if you think there’s work to be done then put it in the number one spot on your ‘2024 To Do list’.   

Workplace Wizards can help take the stress out of crafting best practice policies, dealing with holiday season risks and more. We’ve got a team of highly experienced & legally trained employment consultants, who have worked with a large variety of Australian businesses to help them keep their workplaces safe and thriving. 

This article has only skimmed the surface on risk management at this time of the year – for more detailed advice and support, and solutions that are custom tailored to your specific business circumstances and needs, reach out today to book in a consultation with one of our friendly Wizards team members!  


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