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Keeping workplace festivities from crossing the line

23 November 2022 | Stephen Schoninger, Partner, Head of Employment & Workplace, Avant Law

The final weeks of 2022 see many medical practices holding end of year celebrations. It’s a great way to acknowledge the work of your team and celebrate, but don’t lose sight that the party is work-related and employment laws apply.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for us to see inappropriate behaviour and associated claims arising from work-related social events. The informal setting, often out of hours, at a bar, restaurant or practice owner’s home combined with alcohol, can see employee behaviours cross the line.

Important to protect your legal interests

Although employees are liable for their own behaviour and can be personally sued, the practice itself can also be vicariously liable unless it can show it took all reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful conduct from occurring.

As a minimum, practices should have an appropriate workplace behaviour policy, ensure regular training on the policy and promptly address any inappropriate behaviours.

It’s helpful to send a timely reminder to all team members ahead of your festive season celebrations saying certainly relax and have fun but remember not to overstep the mark.

Templated communication for your Practice

Avant Law have prepared a simple email that Practices could use when communicating about upcoming events and expected behaviour.

Hi everyone

Our practice Christmas party is just around the corner, with the end of 2022 just weeks away!

While we’re all excited to share an enjoyable time together, please be conscious of the following reminders to make sure everyone remains comfortable and safe.

Please look after yourself and each other while relaxing and celebrating, and plan upfront for safe travel home after the party.

Please remember to consume alcohol responsibly. There will be lots of food, so make sure you eat enough and drink water or soft drinks between rounds. If you see a colleague who seems a little worse for wear, please check in on them.

It is always important to respect the boundaries of your colleagues. During practice functions, all team members must adopt the same standards of behaviour required in the workplace, including in relation to sexual harassment and bullying, which will not be tolerated.

Please reach out to [appropriate manager] if you need any support on the night.

Have fun celebrating!

Act promptly on complaints

There is no such thing as an ‘informal’ complaint and remember, the laws against sexual harassment and bullying apply at all workplace events. As a practice owner or manager, you are responsible for ensuring that any issues are taken seriously, promptly investigated and appropriately managed to help reduce legal risk to the practice.

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