How to plan for an end-of-year work function and minimise the risks

27 October 2021

With vaccination numbers increasing daily and lockdown lifting, businesses are starting to consider what an end-of-year celebration may look like in 2021. It is expected many will take the opportunity to catch-up in-person, either on the worksite or by supporting their local restaurants or pubs.

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Planning for a workplace function

The Victorian Chamber recommends businesses consider the following advice in the lead up to December and end of year celebrations:

Lay the groundwork

  • Refresh, update and communicate your Code of Conduct policy. Make adjustments to reflect changed work styles (Remember: remote working still carries expectations of reasonable and lawful employee conduct) and strengthen alignment with business values and reasonable expectations.
  • Start the conversation now about what a return to work will look like and when it is likely to occur.
  • Consider virtual and in-person options for the function (one may replace the other depending on restrictions at the time). 

Communicate promptly, succinctly and prepare employees for possible venue expectations

  • E.g., must be double vaccinated to attend or hold a valid exemption. 

Learn from the past

  • Have ‘incidents’ occurred in the past? Act now to reinforce your code of conduct, policies, procedures and complaints handling mechanisms.

Establish (if you haven’t already) an employee assistance program for those workers who may need some extra support in the lead up to the end of the year. 

Investigations may be necessary – be prepared to act 

While end-of-year functions can be an opportunity to socialise, for some, behaviour can go too far.  Make sure your leaders know what to do if they see inappropriate behaviour and remind them they will need to act. Where complaints are made, treat it seriously and, depending on the allegations and evidence available, you may need to conduct a workplace investigation.   

In any event, if you are considering taking disciplinary action, seek advice. We know having a valid reason for dismissal alone is not always enough. You must take into account all the circumstances and follow a fair and reasonable process. 

Are you undertaking a review of your policies and procedures?  

Typically, during a workplace investigation the policies and procedures which dictate how we should (or should not) act are put to the test. We recommend undertaking a policy and procedure ‘strength test’ now before you are faced with an investigation. Start by asking the following questions of each policy and procedure: 

  • What is the purpose and does it achieve it?  
  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it known, communicated and understood?
  • Is it followed?
  • Does it align with recent changes to legislation?
  • Does it put the business at risk of breaching its own policy?
  • Does it hamper the businesses’ ability to act in the face of poor employee behaviour?  

Once you have a set of proposed changes to your policy, ensure you get a second opinion (either internally or through the Victorian Chamber Consulting team). Discuss the usability and practicalities within the business, with managers, senior executives and employees. Finally, make the necessary changes and train internal stakeholders on the key procedural requirements.  

We are here to help 

Regardless of the size of your business, your industry or the issues faced, our Workplace Relations Consultants are experts who can help you every step of the way. Contact our Workplace Relations Advice Line on 03 8662 5222 to speak to our team about planning workplace functions, managing a complaint or reviewing your policies and procedures. 

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