Celebrating Christmas COVID-style
2020 has been a very strange year for everyone, filled with uncertainty and many challenges in both our professional and personal lives.
As the festive season approaches, many organisations are asking themselves “what are we going to do about our Christmas party this year?” or “Is it safe to have a Christmas party this year?”
Border closures and restrictions mean for some, the usual annual Christmas party may need to be put on hold, while for others the celebration may look quite different.
If we go ahead with a Christmas party, what should we be aware of?
Some businesses may decide to continue with their usual plans for Christmas, in recognition of the challenges that everyone has experienced and to reward employees for their hard work and dedication during a tough year.
When arranging a work function, organisers first need to ensure any plans comply with current state-based restrictions or recommendations. Information around the latest restrictions can be found at the links at the bottom of this article.
It is strongly recommended that employers undertake a WHS risk assessment for the event which incorporates a COVID-19 safety plan.
In these circumstances, the following should be taken into consideration:
- Is the location large enough to maintain social distancing requirements?
- Are there restrictions on how many people can attend?
- How will food be served? – Meals and food should not be share plates or buffet style to avoid contamination
- Plates and crockery should be disposable
- Use canned drinks or small bottles to avoid the need to pass beverages around to be shared
- Undertake an infection control risk assessment to ensure risk control measures are in place
- Provide enough hand sanitiser
- Put up COVID Safe signage to remind employees of their obligations
- Some states require face masks to be worn and this is still required at parties
- Implement a COVID-19 Safety Plan for the event as this will form part of a WHS risk assessment
Even if an employer believes that they are doing the right thing by holding an onsite Christmas party, there may be some employees who have concerns about attending. Employers should consider:
- Consulting with employees about the idea to hold an onsite event and seek feedback
- Consult with employees about the risk control measures to be put in place for the event
- Respect an employee’s decision not to attend
- Share the COVID-19 Safety plan to keep the event safe
Some questions to get started on a WHS Risk Assessment
Some businesses may consider holding an event offsite, onsite or online this year. Depending on where the event is held, the following questions should be considered when developing a WHS risk assessment:
> Are you confident that the venue you are choosing is compliant with the public health requirements, on paper and in reality? Especially regarding their COVID-19 Safety Plans, cleaning, hygiene and social distancing.
>How will you manage transport to and from the venue? Some companies may have arranged a shuttle bus in previous years, and this year it may not be safe to offer the same.
>Who from the business is monitoring the supply and consumption of alcohol?
>If running your own party on site, how do you make sure you are complying with all public/social gathering limits and requirements?
>How will you manage transport to and from the site? In previous years, companies may have arranged for carpooling or taxi vouchers. Are these safe options this year in the state you operate in?
>Who will be monitoring the supply and consumption of alcohol if provided?
>How would you manage offensive comments made during an online meeting with all staff?
>What WHS risks may arise from employees participating at home or engaging with others online?
>Does the business have an IT/Communications policy for online interactions?
Safe Work Australia have industry specific risk assessment information available at https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces
Alternatives to the usual party
This year we have seen businesses adapt and do things differently than ever before. Why not have a different Christmas party celebration then normal? The following are some options to consider:
Have a virtual party
At the beginning of the pandemic, many employees began working from home and our interactions went from face-to-face to online.
Some businesses may consider having their Christmas party online this year. This can save the business money as they don’t have to hire out a venue, and the money saved can instead be used to send a Christmas hamper to staff containing food and a gift.
To keep things fun and interesting, have a cooking competition, a trivia challenge or encourage staff to dress up in a festive costume.
Celebrate in smaller groups
If the thought of having an online party does not appeal, consider having small get-togethers by separating groups into departments or teams.
Social distancing requirements and restrictions on the number of people allowed in premises could mean that companies are unable to have the usual company-wide party.
Breaking up into small groups means that people can still come together to celebrate, provided that the relevant rules in the state/territory permit social gathering.
To mitigate risk, avoid any potential for infection by using disposable cutlery and plates, and provide food and drink that cannot be shared i.e. no buffet style and drinks in separate bottles.
Postpone and have Christmas in July
Some businesses may consider it still too risky to have a Christmas party in December. One option may be to postpone the party and celebrate Christmas in July 2021 instead. The benefits of postponing the Christmas celebration to next year include potentially a higher budget as it gives the business more time to put money towards the function, and restrictions may have eased even further by then.
It also gives us Australians an opportunity to wear a festive jumper, often seen worn in Christmas movies where the holiday occurs in winter in the Northern Hemisphere, which will be a unique experience for many.
It’s still a work party, even if it’s a little different this year
Regardless of how the business chooses to celebrate, employees should be reminded that the function, even if held online, is a work-related event and company policies and expectations on standards of behaviour will continue to apply. This reminder should be sent out prior to the event.
A senior manager should oversee the event and ensure everyone is safe and behaving appropriately.
Ai Group can provide further guidance in managing the risks of work-related social functions.
Further advice or assistance
For further advice or assistance on this topic or any other workplace relations matter, contact the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.
Call 1300 862 217 8.30am – 5.15pm AEST Mon-Fri
Information around the latest restrictions can be found at the following links (current at the time of writing):
New South Wales: https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19
South Australia: https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/
Western Australia: https://www.wa.gov.au/government/covid-19-coronavirus
Australian Capital Territory: https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/
Northern Territory: https://coronavirus.nt.gov.au/