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So this is Christmas, and WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!!

John Lennon may not have been referencing your inappropriate behaviour at the office Christmas party, but it’s well worth ensuring end of year celebrations don’t have you regretting what happened the night before (and looking for a new job!).

Sexual harassment isn’t a new workplace issue, but with Christmas upon us – and social events, client parties and workplace functions every which way you turn – the possibility of bullying and sexual harassment is at its highest.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we cancel any events – Christmas parties are a great time to bring the team together to increase morale, build camaraderie and celebrate successes of the year that was. In fact, some may even consider it un-Australian to forego December festive celebrations. Doesn’t mean you need to accept that there will be handsy coworkers though – and it certainly doesn’t mean you should be crossing the line of appropriateness with your own behaviour either.

As employers and employees, we’re developing a clearer understanding of what constitutes acceptable behaviour at work. But when we mix alcohol with staff letting their hair down in a work related setting, the potential for inappropriate and undesirable behaviour is real, and we need to be prepared to minimise, mitigate and respond to inappropriate conduct.

If you’re an employer:

Draw the boundaries

Your organisation should have bullying, harassment, drug and alcohol or code of conduct policies in place and your staff should be aware they apply equally to events organised by the company, even if they’re at the pub and not in the office.

No double parking

Offer light alcohol and non-alcoholic options, or consider limiting the amount of alcohol you provide and for how long. Having the tab or drinks run out before the end of the event can also help manage alcohol consumption.

Scrabble anyone?

Have a plan for how long staff will be consuming alcohol or consider activities or a daytime event which may be less conducive to drinking.

Thanks for coming

What happens when your work event has finished? Selecting party locations near public transport or providing taxi vouchers will increase the chance that your staff will head home at the end of the night.

Tap on the shoulder

Be ready to send staff home if they are intoxicated or behaving inappropriately. If any allegations are made after the event, act on them promptly – this can’t wait until the office is open in the new year. Involve HR (or if you are a smaller size agency that does not have a HR function, do this yourself and involve the appropriate legal parties if required) and ensure that you interview all parties and any witnesses, document everything and act in line with your agreed policies and processes.

If you’re a team member:

Keep it classy

Yes, we know the booze is free. Enjoy, but don’t party too hard. Having a good time does not mean getting sh*t faced and making a fool out of yourself while simultaneously making your colleagues uncomfortable.

Pace yourself

Make sure you eat. Make sure you drink water. Avoid the shots and don’t guzzle your drinks. There’s no fire, it’s not a race and there’s no rush!

Loose lips sink ships

Now is not the time to air your workplace laundry, confront the boss, flirt with the intern or mouth off about your salary package. Don’t talk shop, and spend some time getting to know your colleagues.

Plan your evening

Know how you’ll get home when the party has wrapped up. While kicking on to an after party may sound like a good idea, it may result in a headache worse than your hangover the next morning.

And if the worst happens?

If your colleague’s drunken Christmas cheer is making you uncomfortable – or you notice someone else being inappropriately targeted  – let management know so they can intervene before it escalates. And make sure you report any incidents to your manager or HR team as soon as possible after the event, it can’t wait until next year.

Merry Christmas!