After the year that has been, it is understandable that a lot of workplaces will be gleefully looking forward to kicking back a few bubbles and toasting to end of 2020.
But it is important to sing the tale of fateful Christmas parties past and remind employers and employees that the laws of reasonable management action, workplace health and safety and misconduct continue to apply and will land both employers and employees on the naughty list if the elves fall off their shelves.
The Tale of Vai v ALDI
On a not so merry Christmas, the Dandenong ALDI Store and Distribution Centre held their annual Christmas Party in a private function room at the Brownstone Micro Brewery, with all costs, including alcohol paid for by ALDI.
At the event, Warehouse Operator, Mr Sione Vai, consumed a significant amount of alcohol and had also had pre-drinks before attending the event. He was subsequently cut off by the bar staff and managers and in a drunken state, threw a glass of beer in the direction of his colleagues, narrowly missing them and smashing on the wall behind them.
Mr Vai was later dismissed for his conduct and brought an application in the Fair Work Commission alleging that he had been unfairly dismissed.
Mr Vai’s claim was unsuccessful on the grounds that:
- ALDI had taken appropriate steps to control and health and safety of its staff by engaging a private venue with Responsible Service of Alcohol obligations to control and serve alcohol to attendees;
- It was not a situation in which it was a case of “help yourself” in regard to obtaining drinks – unlike the decision in Keenan v Leighton Boral Amey NSW Pty Ltd  FWC 3156 where an employee’s drunken antics were held to not be a valid reason for his dismissal in the circumstances where his employer provided uncontrolled access to alcohol at a work Christmas function;
- The throwing of a full glass of beer at colleagues was so significant to warrant his dismissal as it could have had significant consequences had they had been hit; and
- Procedural fairness and natural justice were afforded.
Tips for Having a Safe and Merry Christmas
Whilst it is appreciated that it can be difficult for employers to predict all facets of employee behaviour at work sponsored Christmas events, under occupational health and safety laws employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all employees during work related activities, including Christmas parties.
As such, it is vital that in the lead-up to Christmas, employers take steps to implement effective strategies to prevent unwanted incidents and to ensure the safety of employees at work endorsed Christmas functions.
This may include:
- Refreshing employees' awareness of any applicable workplace policies or codes of conduct;
- Reminding employees to drink responsibly and to organise appropriate transport to and from the venue if they intend to consume alcohol;
- Setting clear standards for behaviour and conduct ahead of the event;
- Monitoring alcohol consumption and ensure supply is not uncontrolled (consider ensuring the service of alcohol is carried out by someone who holds a current Responsible Service of Alcohol certification); and
- Taking proactive steps to manage poor behaviour and conduct immediately.
We hope you all have a safe and merry festive season and you all take steps to ensure neither your employees or your business end up on the Fair Work Commission or Workplace Health and Safety Regulator’s naughty list.
...but if you do, always remember that the experienced team at Enterprise Legal are here to help!