Minimising behaviour problems at work-related events

Jun 29, 2015 | Termination

Most businesses have some kind of social event from time-to-time, commonly at Christmas but often more regularly throughout the year. While as a business owner you hope everyone enjoys these events, they don’t always go to plan, and poor behaviour at a social event can leave you with more than just a hangover. Here are our five tips to minimise the risk of behavioural problems at a work social event and improve your chances of enjoying it!

1. Be aware of vicarious liability

As an employer you could find yourself vicariously liable for acts taking place outside the workplace, including at work-related social events. If the event could be considered an extension of employment (which most office parties, conferences and other work events would be), you could be liable if an employee commits an act of discrimination or negligence at the event. Don’t assume that an event taking place outside work hours or at an external venue means it has nothing to do with you.

2. Be clear about expectations of behaviour

You don’t necessarily need a specific policy, but clarity about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour will help drive the right behaviour by reducing the likelihood of occurrences in the first place, and will also help you deal with poor behaviour after the event.

3. Monitor behaviour

Having one or two managers who are responsible for keeping an eye on things and being in a position to step in early where there is the potential for escalation can be enormously helpful. Not much fun for them, but then being a manager isn’t always fun, and neither is dealing with the aftermath of a disastrous social event….

4. Identify the most likely areas of concern

In practice, the two most common forms of unacceptable behaviour at work-related events are aggression/conflict (often alcohol-induced or –aggravated) and sexual harassment. With that in mind, make sure your relevant policies are adequate, fit-for-purpose and up-to-date, including referring to work-related social events specifically. Remember, in the event of allegations of sexual harassment particularly, unwanted or offensive conduct cannot be excused because it occurred at a social event, even if it is a one-off occurrence.

5. Identify triggers and take steps to minimise the impact

Excessive alcohol is the classic trigger for undesirable behaviour at work-related events. While it can be tempting (if you’re feeling generous!) to supply plentiful alcohol or even an open bar, there is no doubt that doing so will increase the likelihood of problems, so consider directing your generosity elsewhere and moderating alcohol consumption as far as you can.

For more advice or assistance, please contact us.