Soon enough it will be December and we will be heading out for work parties and events to celebrate the end of the year. Just like when we are at work things can go wrong with safety concerns to both our physical and mental health including physical hazards, bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
When we are at work there is no question that these safety concerns are the responsibility of the employer, so what about when we are at external work events like Christmas/end of year parties?
Each state has specific legislation providing this protection whilst we are at work however, there is currently no specific legislation that links employer safety responsibilities to external work events. There is, however, significant caselaw on this matter providing in many instances that the employer’s responsibility to keep you safe and eliminate risks does in fact carry over to events occurring outside the traditional workplace, with a particular focus on sexual harassment.
Three cases that come to mind are Ewin v Vergara (No 3)  FCA 1311, Richardson v Oracle Corporation Australia Pty Ltd  FCAFC 82 and Kerkofs v Abdallah (Human Rights)  VCAT 259. Each of these cases involve instances of sexual harassment inside and outside of the traditional workplace. In each of these cases, one of the major legal issues in dispute was whether instances occurring outside the specific workplace constituted workplace sexual harassment meaning there is the potential for employers to be held legally responsible for these types of events. These cases included events which occurred in the victim’s home, at workplace conferences and after work social gatherings. The judges in these cases placed more importance on the working relationship between the parties rather than the place which the incidents occurred.
It is section 28B of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) that gives employees protection from workplace sexual harassment. In the case of Ewin v Vergara (No 3) Bromberg J, pointed out that work and work-based functions commonly occur in a variety of places including conference halls, other venues where functions are held, and even in cars or taxis. Making it pretty clear at least in relation to sexual harassment an employer remains responsible for their employee's safety at work-related events.
Ok, so what does this mean?
This means that just as it is your boss’s responsibility to protect your safety in the workplace it is also their responsibility to protect your physical and psychosocial safety at work related events like end of year parties. If a boss fails to take adequate precautions or fails to act on a safety issue in a timely manner, they may be legally responsible for damages caused to their workers.
Where can I get help?
If you have had an unsafe experience or, have been injured at a workplace event, or you are having any other work-related issue you can reach out to the Young Workers Centre for free and confidential legal advice for young workers under thirty. Or, if you are a union member your union can also provide support. You can contact us here.