Office party

RISKMAS – TIS’ THE SEASON TO BE CAREFUL

It was the night before the end of year party, when the workplace was still safe and sound…

 It’s all good and well to enjoy the fruits of your hard work this year, kick-back and have fun with your colleagues. But a split-second decision, momentary lack of awareness or a lack of adequate planning to manage foreseeable risks during something as seemingly good-natured as an end of year party, can leave a lasting negative impact on your business. In the worst-case scenarios it can even result in a swathe of reputational, financial, and legal troubles for your workplace, and quickly turn a celebratory season into a HR nightmare that will bleed into the new year and beyond.  

And it’s not just end of year parties and celebrations to be mindful of this festive holiday season. For some workplaces, December also brings with it a considerable ramp up in operations and performance to deal with the holiday rush. Cue, more opportunities for workplace injuries, risk of burnout, compliance issues, staff conflict and more to pop up – and that’s notwithstanding adding the risks of a work party into the mix! 

Suffice to say, it’s a hectic period no matter what industry you’re in, which makes it all the more important to be mindful of the risks that this season presents. We’ve compiled a list of common risks to be aware of around this time of year for your consideration in this article – you can find information on next steps and where to go for support at the end!  

Christmas/End of Year Celebrations

We aren’t the Christmas Grinch! We’re all for celebrating the year that’s coming to a close, especially considering just how many challenges and how much change Australian businesses have had to overcome and adapt to. However, what we don’t want is for the spirit of your celebration to get up-ended by disaster and for the year to end on a sour note. So, what are some of the risks associated with holding end of year celebrations and events to be mindful about? 

First things first – is everyone on board?  

It’s important to be mindful of the fact that not everyone might want to attend a celebration/party and not everyone celebrates the Christmas season either. So, if you’re planning a Christmas/’end of year’ celebration it’s important to not only make the event as inclusive as possible but also ensure your staff know that it’s not compulsory to attend. Don’t leave it to them to assume – make it clear that attendance is non-obligatory and there won’t be repercussions to workplace dynamics if someone choses to not attend. No one should feel forced to attend or feel like they’ll be ostracised or ‘miss out’ by not attending!  

Have you assessed the risks involved with your event? Do you have a plan for prevention and management in place? 

Workplace functions present an opportunity for any number of things to go awry. From distasteful ‘jokes’, harassment, bullying, unacceptable behaviour, discrimination and physical injuries, there’s a wide variety of risks to be aware of – even more so if there’s alcohol involved. As such, like with any kind of workplace event or operation, it’s vital that you sit down with your HR representatives, managers etc. to: 

  • understand what kind of risks a workplace party can present  
  • have a plan in place to prevent risks from occurring where possible 
  • have a plan in place to manage risks as they occur 

 If you’re supplying alcohol at a non-licensed venue, ensure you’ve got your RSA (responsible service of alcohol) compliance sorted and have a plan in place for how alcohol consumption will be moderated. You should also have in place thorough workplace policies that will also cover how employees conduct your workplace function, including policies on: 

  • social media use  
  • bullying & harassment  
  • discrimination  
  • sexual harassment  
  • workplace conduct & behaviour 
  • alcohol & drug consumption  
  • workplace health & safety 

You can use these policies to inform your risk management and to set boundaries for the event. Remember, it’s a celebration but it’s still a workplace event so the safety of your employees should be the number one priority.  

Have staff been communicated to about expectations, relevant policies and other important information prior to the event being held?  

Planning is vital but the second half of that equation is to make sure that risks, rules, boundaries and expected behaviour is communicated to staff. You need to ensure they also understand that the word ‘celebration’ doesn’t mean negligence of the applicable workplace policies (as explored above). It’s also important they understand what consequences they may face for breaching any of the boundaries set and where they can go to report any issues/lodge complaints if anything happens at the event.  

Compliance

When thinking about risks during the holiday season, almost everyone only thinks of all the things that could go wrong at work parties & functions. But a risk that is often not considered is that of non-compliance!  

With things like increased operations, holiday shutdown periods, and/or leave requests cropping up at a higher frequency around this time of the year, it’s important to remain vigilant about employee entitlements and ensure you’re on-top of what your obligations.  

Here are some brief compliance considerations for you to have on your radar: 

  • Annual leave: your award or registered agreement might allow you to direct employees to take annual leave during the business shutdown. There are rules for most awards about how and when an employer can direct their employees to do this – make sure you look over applicable agreements or awards to understand what you can and can’t do. 
  • Annual leave requests: Remember annual leave requests can only be denied if the refusal is reasonable. What’s reasonable is assessed on a case-by-case basis – you should consult any relevant awards, agreements and leave policies in place to deal with requests.  
  • Working during the shutdown period: ensure you’re still meeting your employer obligations when it comes to pay and conditions for any of your employees who will be working through the shutdown period – pay particular attention to entitlements on public holidays.  
  • Working overtime: you can ask your employees to work overtime or on public holidays, but they have the right to refuse if they have reasonable grounds to do so. Check the Fair Work Ombudsman’s page for more details on what can be considered ‘reasonable grounds’.
  • Overtime/public holiday pay: remember to check the award/s and other relevant agreements that apply to your business to ensure you’re paying any employees who are working longer hours and/or on public holidays the correct wage. 
  • If you’re hiring new staff for the holiday season, make sure you’re across the updates to super and minimum wage that occurred earlier this year. 

The Holiday Rush

The end of year period is oftentimes one of the busiest times of the year! As such, it’s important to remain attentive to the risks that the rush can present to daily operations, including things like: 

  • Overworked staff 
  • High demand for services – this can have a flow on effect to multiple areas of your business 
  • Having to manage and cater for many customers/consumers/clients, who may oftentimes be quite a handful to manage in and around all the chaos 
  • Increased opportunities for workplace injuries & accidents – whether it be in relation to staff or customers  

As with what we suggested doing for workplace events, have a risk management and prevention plan in place for the above and any other risks that can occur at your workplace. And don’t forget to remind staff about expectations, avenues to resolve any incidents/disputes/issues, and the existing workplace policies that will guide how the business will manage the risks presented by the holiday rush.  

Workplace Conflict, Injuries & Burnout

Whether you’re wrapping up work in time for a shutdown period or ramping up activities to meet the holiday demand, this time of the year can make workplaces into highly strung environments. It comes in part due to a concoction of less awareness, mental and physical fatigue, and the pressure to get things done before the year ends. This then acts as feedback loop of sorts – you feel tired as you push to overwork and get things done and naturally your brain begins to push back workplace health and safety as a primary priority, because it’s too occupied trying to fight off the beginnings of burnout whilst also trying to get work done. This can then result in:

  • Increases in workplace injuries – both physical and mental
  • Burn out, fatigue and sickness
  • Increased opportunities for workplace conflict, whether it be between staff or between staff and a third party (such as a customer or client)

So, as an employer, it’s vital you ensure you prepare to manage the above and more. Use existing workplace policies and resources from places like Work Safe Victoria to inform your methods of risk management and make sure that this is communicated to all employees as well!

Next steps

 There’s a lot of things to consider and juggle this holiday season and workplace health and safety should be one of them – if not your 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 ‘2023 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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