It’s frightening but real: the end of the year is just around the corner, and while employees are hard at work chasing final deadlines, employers are finalising plans for an unforgettable year-end function. It’s a time to reflect on the year, celebrate achievements and say thank you to the people who make valuable contributions to the company.   

Of course, a year-end function is a festive affair and usually includes good food and alcoholic beverages. But those drinks can be responsible for a few headaches, and we’re not just talking about hangovers.   

Irresponsible consumption of alcohol at a work party can cause trouble for both employers and employees. Employees need to comply with the general conduct requirements of the company, and employers need to ensure they clarify that company rules and policies still apply, even though they are relaxed somewhat.    

How employers should prepare for year-end functions

For starters, employers need to understand that they can legally be held liable for any questionable or destructive behaviour from their employees. Additionally, this can cause irreparable harm to the company’s reputation and could sour internal working relationships. 

Employers should… 

  • Make it clear to employees that they still have to conduct themselves professionally and respectfully and that they have to consume alcohol responsibly, whether they are at the office or outside the office and representing the company; 
  • Limit the number of alcoholic beverages for each employee- drinking vouchers or tickets are a good way of managing this. Also, inform the bar and waiters to refuse to serve alcohol to intoxicated employees. 
  • Clarify that employees could be asked to leave a venue if their behaviour is inappropriate; 
  • Remind employees that they could face disciplinary action for misconduct; 
  • Provide transport to and from the function and encourage employees to make use of public transportation when they are dropped off at the office after the party; 
  • Require employees to sign a document that clearly states they will be liable for any damage they might cause at the year-end function.
  • Ensure managers understand company policies around alcohol and substance abuse and step in when staff act out of line. Inappropriate or even criminal behaviour can range from damaging property to sexual harassment.  

What employees need to keep in mind about year-end functions

As mentioned previously, a year-end function is meant to be a chance for employees to let their hair down and have a merry time- all within reason, of course. While some of the rules and regulations of the workplace are relaxed, they are not entirely suspended. Alcohol consumption is usually not tolerated at work, and even the slightest over-indulgence can lead to some problematic behaviour that could have immediate and lasting consequences. 

Employees should… 

  • Drink responsibly at the year-end function and perhaps ask a colleague to keep an eye on them (although the responsibility falls solely on the individual);
  • Eat enough food and drink lots of water to minimise the effects of alcohol – even if they are only having two drinks;
  • Bear in mind that should they get out of hand and become destructive, they could face disciplinary action, be dismissed from their job and legally held liable for any damage caused;
  • Not drink and drive, if they have decided not to make use of the transport offered by the company;
  • Realise that being fired as a result of being too intoxicated could affect their chances of getting a new job; and
  • Consider that even the slightest misconduct could have a lasting effect, i.e. someone in a management position acting irresponsibly might not be taken seriously by their team when they are back in the office.

It’s up to both employers and employees to ensure that a year-end function doesn’t get out of control and devolve into a negatively impacting company and colleagues. Celebrate in such a way that it highlights all the year’s achievements and inspires you to return to the office with a positive attitude.  

We’ve Got Your Back!

Remember, if you somehow do find yourself directly or indirectly implicated in a disciplinary hearing regarding drinking at a year-end function and you feel you could be facing an unfair dismissal, make sure you have a caring legal professional on your side. Have a look at LAW FOR ALL’s policies for more information.