With the silly season about to hit, event planners are being warned that the safety of participants is not taken lightly by the Fair Work Commission.

In late 2014 the decision to sack an employee of a West Australian company after he pushed a fully-clothed colleague into a swimming pool at an end-of-year party was upheld by the Fair Work Commission earlier this year.

But in a previous case, an employee who sexually harassed colleagues and swore at his managers, and was subsequently sacked, was deemed to have been unfairly dismissed. In that case the Fair Work Commission said employers may not be in a position to insist on standards of conduct at functions if they served unlimited amounts of free alcohol.

In the West Australia case, the manufacturing company arranged for their employees to enjoy a day of go-karting followed by a Christmas party back at the company’s premises. Alcohol was available for the employees in attendance, as were soft drinks and food, all of which had been provided by the company.

The Fair Work Commission report states there “were no controls over the amount of alcohol individuals chose to consume”.

“There is a significant amount of evidence from a number of the respondent’s witnesses which is consistent and supports a finding that at the Christmas party Mr McDaid was inebriated and behaved in an aggressive manner, both verbally and physically towards Mr Sinna,” the report says.

“Specifically this evidence is to the effect that Mr McDaid on a number of occasions pushed Mr Sinna in the chest and finally pushed him, fully clothed, into the swimming pool.

“It is clear that a number of the employees present on the night in question including Mr McDaid were affected by alcohol. To his credit Mr McDaid did not attempt to use the fact that he had been drinking as an excuse for his conduct. He did however criticise the employer generally for its actions in supplying the alcohol.

“Whilst in some circumstances an employer that provides alcohol at a work function and takes no steps to ensure it is consumed responsibly may be culpable for events attributable to the consumption of alcohol, such as a drunken employee being injured falling down stairs, employees who drink will also be held responsible for their own actions.

“The fact that someone has been drinking when they behave badly may in part explain their actions but it should not be accepted as an excuse for that misbehaviour. How much alcohol someone drinks is a choice they make and with that choice comes consequences. Society no longer readily accepts alcohol consumption as an excuse for bad behaviour and certainly not for physical violence.”

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