Positive Duty to Celebrate Safely – Managing the Festive Season and Ensuring Celebrations are Remembered for all the Right Reasons


As Christmas draws nearer, so to do Christmas parties and other functions. Whilst hosting a work party of similar festive celebration can be a great way to reward employees, it can also be a source of anxiety for employers who are unsure of their obligations. Therefore, now is a crucial time to ensure that all end of year events promote the safety and well-being of employees.

As work functions are deemed to be a work activity, all employees are expected to continue to abide by workplace policies, standards of behaviour and codes of conduct. This means that any unlawful behaviour which occurs at a work function, such as sexual harassment or unlawful discrimination, can be the subject of a workplace complaint or litigation. Likewise, employees can be subject to disciplinary action, including but not limited to termination, if they engage in unlawful or unacceptable behaviour at a work function.

Positive Duty to Prevent Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022 implements recommendations from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report. This includes amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to introduce a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination as far as reasonably practicable.

Now, more than ever, the prevention of unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, including at work functions, is not only the right thing to do, by also a commercial necessity due to the hefty fines that could be imposed upon employers for not implementing such positive duties. The Respect@Work report found that workplace sexual harassment cost the Australian economy approximately $3.8 billion in 2018.

It is recommended that the following steps be considered to ensure a balance between reduced risks and an enjoyable time for both employers and employees:

Prior to the Event 

  • Clearly outline the Christmas party plans, including the venue details, specific start and finish times, as well as any transportation arrangements.
  • Ensure that the relevant policies are up to date and employees are educated on these.
  • Conduct training for employees about appropriate workplace conduct – for example, providing examples of what constitutes unlawful, discriminatory or inappropriate behaviour.
  • Remind staff of the standards of behaviour expected and the consequences of failing to meet those standards.

During the Event

  • Ensure responsible service of alcohol.
  • The provision of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Appoint someone, for example a senior manager to monitor hazards and deal with any problems or issues during the event. The designated person should be sober.

After the Event 

  • Exercise a duty of care to ensure that employees can get home safely.
  • Communicate to employees that any activities or contributed celebrations after the finish time, are not endorsed or the responsibility of the employer.
  • Having a clear finish time will ensure that responsibility ends at a certain time.


Although undertaking extra steps when planning a Christmas celebration may seem tedious, taking the time to ensure that employees are aware and understand their responsibilities and expectations will minimise potential risks while still ensuring that everyone remembers the night for all the right reasons.

If you have any questions about work health and safety obligations, please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Peter Hindeleh, Daphne Klianis or Josh Hoggett.

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