This article was written by Jose Jorge, director at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa and assisted by Esther van Schalkwyk a candidate attorney

The itchiness (and hilarity) of Movember has passed and the end of the year is in sight.

The end of year party seems to have become an indispensable part of any self-respecting employer’s commitment to staff entertainment. As the long, hard year draws to a close, staff members look forward to losing their ties, loosening their top buttons and letting their hair down. Apologies to the follically challenged and also for the mixed metaphors. It is that time of the year.

On the positive side year-end functions promote a sense of team spirit and allow colleagues to experience each other’s company outside the strict confines of the office. On the negative side the abuse of alcohol at these year-end functions may have disastrous and unforeseen consequences.  Work-related functions usually occur within working time and, even if hosted off site, may expose the employer to vicarious liability for the wrongful deeds of its employees.

The following is a simple guide to employers (hopefully) hosting an enjoyable and safe year end function:

Ground rules

Be sure to clearly communicate the start and end times of the function.  Inform employees that at an appropriate time the function will end and that you will stop serving alcohol.  What you lose in popularity points will be compensated for in the financial savings, believe me.

Warn employees that they are accountable for their actions after the function and that if they intend joining an after party that they should conduct themselves responsibly and ensure that they are able to get home safely.

If you don’t already have an alcohol policy in place then consider introducing an alcohol policy or at least issue a short list of dos and don’ts before the function so that employees know what is expected of them.

Avoid being a Grinch but communicate to employees that inappropriate behaviour due to over-indulgence will be met with consequences.

Follow through with disciplinary action against employees who misbehave.

Encourage management to set an example an appropriate example.  Yes, that means you!

Serve alcohol responsbiliy

This is the golden rule.

An increase in alcohol almost inevitably leads to a decrease in inhibition.  I think there is a mathematical equation in there somewhere.

Cameras on mobile phones.  Good or bad?  While it might be hilarious to see your prim, reserved pre‑retirement secretary do “the running man” (I might be showing my age here.  Is that still hip?  Insert whatever the latest fad dance is), it may not be that funny for her when she returns to work on Monday.

Limit the quantity of alcohol served and be careful in the choice of alcohol served.  Think lower alcohol drinks like beer and wine rather than spirits. Discourage irresponsible drinking games (and tequila).

Ensure that there plenty of water and non-alcoholic beverages available.  Contrary to popular belief water is good for you and no, it doesn’t make you rust.

Keep an eye on persons under the legal drinking age.  Under-age drinking should not be allowed.  Instruct the bar and the waiters not to serve alcohol to under-age employees.

Monitor the intake of alcohol during the function. Yes, this means responsible policing.

Ensure that there are plenty of high calorie snacks if you are going to have pre-meal drinks.  Not only do they taste good but they do compensate for the bad effects of alcohol.

Ensure that safe transport is available

No employer wants a work function to end in tragedy.  Warn employees against driving under the influence of alcohol.

Ensure that appropriate travel arrangements are in place before the function.  Ensure that taxis or some other form of public transport is available and if necessary arrange company transport.

Keep an eye out for discrimination and harassment

An employer retains a duty of care towards employees even outside of the workplace.  One of alcohol’s dark powers is the ability to unlock the sex-pest in some.  Sexual harassment is unacceptable behaviour under any circumstances.  Ensure employees understand that they must behave with appropriate decorum at functions.

Keep an eye out for inappropriate contact between fellow employees.  If harassment or other inappropriate behaviour is observed, intervene immediately.  Do so politely and firmly.  Whatever you do, do not ignore this conduct.

Be culturally sensitive.  If your function is themed then check that the theme does not offend culturally or religiously.  Also be sensitive to dietary requirements and make sure that the day of the function is on a day that all employees can attend.

Employers that apply the suggestions above responsibly can be confident that their staff year end function can be held safely at a place other than the staff canteen.

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