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Handy tips for employers holding virtual end of year work parties

17 December 2020

A year like 2020 has meant that many employers have had to pivot to holding virtual end of year events for their staff. In this article, we take a fresh look at the pitfalls of virtual events from an employment law perspective, and provide some tips for employers during the festive season.

Risks associated with virtual events

The festive season is fast approaching, and at the end of an unprecedented year with unrivalled challenges, employees are ready to let their hair down. With employees across Australia having spent the majority of the year working from home at their home desks, kitchen tables, or makeshift ironing board standing desks, it can be easy to forget that the home is actually an extension of the workplace. This also applies whilst employees are attending virtual end of year functions which, if not managed correctly, could lead to more than just a sore head and have serious repercussions for both employees and employers.

The risk of bad behaviour at work end of year functions is always prevalent, however, there are also various unique risks associated with virtual events that can result in real problems for employees, and headaches for employers. Some examples of these include:

  • Employees screenshotting conduct during the virtual event without the consent of other employees, which may result in the conduct and image going viral and being shared on other forums. Depending on the conduct, this may also result in reputational damage to the employer.
  • The potential for abusive or aggressive language to be used by one employee toward another may be increased during virtual events. Being behind a camera can give people an extra level of boldness which has the propensity to turn ugly with some 'Dutch courage'. 

Tips for holding virtual end of year events

A recommendation when holding virtual functions is for employers to nominate a 'designated driver' who is responsible for monitoring employee conduct throughout the event, and for ensuring employees make it 'home safely' from the virtual meeting if things start to get out of hand.

Another way to safeguard against unruly behaviour is to put employees on notice in writing prior to the event and again at the beginning of the event, that the event is taking place in a 'workplace environment' and therefore the employer's usual policies and procedure must be adhered to by all employees in attendance. We also recommend sending employees a copy of any key policies and procedures prior to the event including but not limited to, any Code of Conduct, Disciplinary Policy and Procedures and Bullying and Harassment Policy.  Employers can even look to set some specific event 'rules' in relation to the responsible consumption of alcohol, dress attire, and appropriate language and behaviour.

Further, it is important that employees are advised that any 'kick on' events or after parties held after the designated finish time of the work event must be undertaken on a separate platform using personal accounts and not, for example, their work Zoom account.

Similarly for any end of year events held in person at venues (including events held at the workplace), in advance of the event taking place, we suggest that employees also be reminded of good behaviour requirements and are also sent a copy of any relevant policies and procedures. As mentioned above, they should also be advised that any 'kick on' events or after parties held after the designated finish time of the work event will be considered private events.

Finally, we recommend that the event begin with the 'designated driver' advising employees that the event is being recorded in the same way as if a work meeting were to be recorded. By recording the event, it also provides employers with a record of events should any issues arise. It is also important for employers to ensure that the party is private, so please ensure your privacy settings are switched on so that only employees may attend the party.

Final Note

We would like to wish you all a happy and safe holiday season, and we look forward to working with you in 2021.

If you require further information or have any queries in relation to this legal update, please contact Matthew Smith, George Haros or Christina Tsakiris.

We would like to acknowledge the contribution of Grant Klemm to this article.

Further Reading