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Ho! Ho! Ho! The festive season, a time to celebrate

December 21, 2015

As 2015 draws to an end and employers prepare to celebrate the Christmas season, it is worth revisiting a case that has shed some light on what is inappropriate conduct at a work function. In this case, it was held that an employee had been unfairly dismissed despite his intimidating behaviour and harassment of colleagues at the staff Christmas party.

Mr Keenan worked as a team leader and along with all other employees, was offered an unlimited service of free alcohol at the event. As the party progressed, the employee engaged in a range of offensive conduct such as telling the director to “f*** off”, asking a senior employee “Who the f**k are you? What do you even do here?” and pestering another for her phone number.

The party then proceeded to a public area of the hotel, whereby Mr Keenan engaged in further conduct that was inappropriate and offensive. According to Vice President Hatcher, this behaviour could not be relied on to support the dismissal as it was not connected to his employment.

The Commissioner then turned to the Christmas party itself and held that, although unpleasant, none of his actions were serious enough to validate the dismissal. If anything, his treatment towards the senior employee may have been sufficient. However, the substance of this allegation was not adequately communicated to the employee and therefore, it could not be said that he was given a proper opportunity to respond.

The FWC also considered a number of other factors such as his good record and the manner in which alcohol was served. As held by VP Hatcher, the employer failed to engage a supervisor for the party and thus indirectly contributed to the employee’s behaviour. “If alcohol is supplied in such a manner it becomes entirely predictable that some individuals will consume an excessive amount and behave inappropriately.” The full text of this decision can be found here.

In light of this case, employers hosting work functions are strongly advised to make sure that alcohol is served responsibly and that their staff are properly supervised. If in doubt, call the NRA team on 1800 RETAIL (738 245).

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