The right to party
South African labour legislation, including the Labour Relations Act, 66 of 1995, and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 75 of 1997, place no obligation on the employer to host a year-end function, or for example a Christmas party.
Although a year-end function can help to relieve tension and strengthen employee relations, it is important to regulate employees’ behavior and actions during the party to ensure compliance with legislation and the business’ policy.
WHAT ARE THE EMPLOYER’S “PARTY” OBLIGATIONS?
The employer has definite obligations when it comes to work functions and can be held responsible for employees’ actions if these actions take place within the scope of their duties. Specific aspects to consider include:
- Potential damage to the employer’s reputation.
- Potential damage to internal working relationships.
- Risk of employees driving under the influence of alcohol or exceeding the legal blood alcohol limit.
- Employer’s health and safety obligations regarding harassment (both of a sexual or non-sexual nature).
Employers should confirm and implement measures for work functions in advance, even if they have a “zero tolerance” alcohol policy in place. If alcohol is served at the function, it is important that the employer can demonstrate that they have made an attempt to manage employees’ behavior regarding alcohol consumption.
ARE YOU HOSTING A YEAR-END FUNCTION?
PRACTICAL TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS
Here are some practical tips for employers to ensure that drink and misbehavior do not take over the party:
- Make alcohol breathalyzers available to employees to test whether they are within the legal limit before they drive home.
- Provide the details of a taxi service or even arrange transport home if possible for employees attending the party.
- Ensure that adequate food, non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of water are available.
- Avoid any drinking games.
- Ensure that responsible drivers clearly understand drug abuse and alcohol policies and that they know when to step in should any situation get out of control.
- Clearly communicate the start and end times of the function.
- Warn employees that they are responsible for their actions after the function and that if they join an after party, they must act responsibly and ensure that they can get home safely.
- Watch out for discrimination and harassment. If harassment or any other inappropriate behaviour is observed, intervene immediately. Do this politely and firmly, but do not under any circumstances ignore such behaviour.
- Plan for dealing with emergencies, injuries or medical problems that may arise during the event. (If the function is organised and sponsored by the employer, and attendance is either mandatory or strongly encouraged, it is more likely that injuries sustained during the event can be considered an injury on duty.)
The workplace is a diverse environment that encompasses a wide range of cultures, religions, beliefs, values, political views, frames of reference, work ethics, and opinions. To prevent workplace accidents, it is important to be aware of hazards and follow safety rules. Employers should establish clear boundaries from the beginning of the employment relationship to avoid any uncertainties going forward. When taking disciplinary action or holding consultations, employers must ensure that they follow the correct procedures to ensure compliance with legislation and company policy.
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