The law requires employers to ensure the health and safety of staff in their workplace, so far as reasonably practical… but did you know this responsibility also extends to the work Christmas do – even if it’s off-site and outside of normal business hours?

Yes indeed – employers organising Christmas parties still need to be aware of their health and safety responsibilities, regardless of where the event is hosted, and whether it’s inside or outside a company’s normal hours of operation.

Business owners and senior managers may be liable if a worker is injured, harmed or harassed at the festive season staff party, and a business must allow employees to take paid sick leave (providing they have the days available) if they injure themselves at a work Christmas party. Even if the injury was a result of the employee’s own… negligence.

Sharing a few bottles of bubbly and some good food is a tradition for many Kiwi businesses celebrating the end of year – and there’s no reason your business can’t continue to enjoy the holiday cheer with a little forethought.

Here are our tips for celebrating the festive season with your team, while avoiding a health and safety hangover in the New Year.

#1 Remind Staff to Have Fun, But Act Responsibly

Intoxication doesn’t only have the potential to lead to injuries – it can also increase instances of harassment, so remind staff of appropriate standards of conduct for your event. You can do this without coming across like a stick in the mud – a quick email around or a notice up in the staff room using health and safety slogans like “look after your mates” is a good way to get the message across. A light-hearted reminder of what’s appropriate and what isn’t will set the right tone, so remind people that nobody likes to be sworn at, groped, assaulted or subjected to discrimination, and that drinking responsibly will reduce the risk of this type of behaviour.

#2 Know Your Legal Obligations Around Alcohol

Whether you’re having a barbecue and a couple of beers at the workplace or going to the local pub, be sure you follow the law around serving alcohol, and ensure no-one drinks alcohol who shouldn’t (for example, staff aged under 18).

#3 Offer Alcohol Free Alternatives

Make sure you provide low-alcohol options and alcohol-free alternatives. Not only will there be some members of your team who prefer not to drink, but having alcohol-free options will help to encourage staff to pace themselves and drink responsibly. Not everyone will want to imbibe at the Christmas party, so ask for volunteers who are happy to act as a “sober buddy” for anyone who needs help during the event. Encourage staff to pace themselves throughout the function. You could even make a game out of having everyone make every second or third drink a glass of water.

#4 Food, Glorious Food

Provide plenty of food, including healthy options. A meal won’t completely negate the effects of alcohol, but it will help. Alcohol is absorbed through the stomach wall. The less food in someone’s tummy, the faster any alcohol they consume will enter their blood stream. The faster alcohol is absorbed, the bigger the impact it has upon someone’s liver, digestive system, kidneys, and cardiovascular system. Ensure your team eats before they drink – particularly foods rich in natural fat (think salmon and avocado, not pizza and burgers), which further slows down alcohol absorption.

#5 Games & Activities

Have a couple of fun activities planned for the staff party so drinking is not the sole focus of the event. It might be a Christmas-themed or ‘know your team mates’ quiz or the opening of your secret Santa gifts if you’re at a restaurant, some karaoke or dancing if you’re at the pub. Planning your event around a particular activity is a great way to take the focus off drinking, so take the team out for bowling, golf, a local concert, cart racing or something else a little different, followed by dinner.

#6 Limit the Quantity of Alcohol Available

Limit the amount of free alcohol on offer to discourage excess consumption and intoxication, or include 1 or 2 drinks on the company tab and let staff know they’ll need to pay for any extra out of their own pocket. Avoid activities or games that encourage excessive alcohol consumption (beer pong is definitely out) and ensure any alcohol is served by trained bar staff, as opposed to a free for all. As mentioned above, call for “sober buddy” volunteers to keep an eye on consumption levels and the wellbeing of their teammates, or nominate a member of your management team. Some organisations impose a drink limit if they know their employees tend to overindulge, and refuse to serve anyone that appears to be intoxicated.

#7 Safe Transport Options

One of the greatest risks to health and safety is transport home at the end of the night, so organise taxis, Ubers or sober drivers to ensure people get home safely after your event. Paying for staff to taxi, Uber or bus home will ensure they’re not tempted to jump behind the wheel if they’ve had ‘just’ a couple of beers. Offer an incentive for staff willing to sober drive their workmates, such as a petrol or grocery voucher.

A little planning goes a long way, so consider the impact on your business and your team, and take your health and safety best practices – and good old fashioned common sense – with you to the Christmas party to result in a great event!