Three ways to keep it legal at the office Christmas party.

By Nathan Coates

Letting off steam at the office Christmas party could leave you unemployed or worse.

Workplaces can be cesspools of unexpressed feelings. And according to workplace law expert Athena Koelmeyer, often these emotions have a way of bubbling to the surface over the festive season.

Ms Koelmeyer told The Law Report that consent is the most important legal concept for revellers to understand, and alcohol is not an excuse for claiming not to know when advances are being reciprocated or not.

Based on real Australian court decisions, here are five tips to avoid getting dismissed, sued or ending up in the slammer as a result of poor judgment.

1. Don’t leave an esky full of beers out for people to serve themselves.

Why: In 2014 Stephen Keenan became intoxicated at a silly season work function thrown by roadworks company Leighton Boral Amey Joint Venture (LBAJV).

At various points in the night, Mr Keenan told board members and managers to “get f**ked” and made inappropriate advances on several female colleagues.

Mr Keenan’s loutish behaviour throughout the night resulted in his employment being terminated in late January 2015, after his summer holiday.

But Mr Keenan, represented by the Australian Workers’ Union, successfully applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for relief from unfair dismissal.

The lengthy FWC decision in favour of Mr Keenan was by no means limited to the problematic esky, but did mention it and said: “It should have been obvious at the function itself that alcohol was not being served responsibly, given that from a certain point persons were able freely to help themselves to beer and that Mr Keenan at an early stage presented himself to a number of persons as intoxicated.”

2. If you’re going to misbehave, do it after closing time.

Why: The FWC also considered the fact that the advertised end of the LBAJV Christmas party was 10:00pm, and that Mr Keenan’s worst behaviour took place at another venue.

Moreover, the FWC decision noted that Mr Keenan’s work performance had not been an issue in the past and so a response commensurate with what had happened at the actual work function would be a warning.


It also recommended that he be demoted from his team leader position, and for Mr Keenan to apologise.

3. Don’t get violent.

Why: You will almost certainly get fired and if you claim unfair dismissal it is highly likely you will get knocked back.

The events that took place at the 2014 Future Engineering and Communication Pty Ltd (FEC) Christmas party are a good example.

After a day of go-karting, FEC employees returned to the company premises for their official Christmas function. There was no control of the amount of alcohol people could drink and there was a pool on the premises.

After getting drunk, project coordinator Damien McDaid started pestering FEC engineer, Mr Sugan Sinner. He poked him in the chest repeatedly before pushing him, fully clothed, into the pool.

As a result of the pool incident, Mr McDaid’s manager, Craig Davies, suggested that he leave. Mr McDaid swore at him and a fight started, with Mr McDaid pushing Mr Davies into a fence and punching him in the head. The melee was captured by closed circuit television.

Mr McDaid claimed he was unfairly dismissed, but the Fair Work Commission found in favour of his employer.

The FWC decision said society no longer accepts alcohol as an excuse for bad behaviour and certainly not for physical violence.

Bonus tip: Don’t give the wrong gift.

Why: Because the gift could be interpreted by the recipient as a comment about their work.

Ngoc Luan Ho Trieu, a former Canberra public servant, received a Kris Kringle gift from an anonymous colleague in 2012.

Mr Ngoc, took the toy reindeer that defecated chocolate to mean that his economic modelling work was not of the highest quality.

Feeling targeted and humiliated, Mr Ngoc reluctantly took a redundancy in June 2013.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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