Mistletoe is not Consent
As we get closer to the end of the year, with some workplaces getting closer to taking a break over the festive season, its important for employers to stay vigilant & aware of their duty of care.
The Working Women’s Centre SA Inc has created this guide for employers to assist them in the prevention & addressing incidents of sexual harassment at the work Christmas party.
Disturbingly, each year from 1 December, the Working Women’s
Centre SA expects to hear countless stories from women complaining
of incidents of sexual harassment occurring at their staff Christmas
Every year we prepare ourselves to assist women who have been the victims of unwanted and unwelcome sexual behaviours at the workplace Christmas parties ranging from offensive and vulgar remarks to violent sexual assaults.
Of course, sexual harassment does not just happen at Christmas parties. Sexual harassment in the workplace is at epidemic levels within Australian workplaces. In 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its workplace sexual harassment survey and found that 1 in 3 workers had been sexually harassed at work in the previous five years. You only have to skim the surface of #metoo stories to know that the workplace can be a very unsafe place for women.
Having identified this trend, we have put together this guide to assist employers in planning a safe and truly celebratory event.
So you’re planning the work Christmas party.
When planning the Christmas party, employers should not lose sight of their overarching primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of all workers. Employers are required to take their legal obligations to their workers as seriously as on any other day of the year.
The Christmas party might be off-site, and if you’re a half-decent party planner, the party might not even feel like work. Don’t let the good vibes lull you into a false sense of security, all employers have a legal obligation to take all reasonable steps to minimize the risk of sexual harassment, and this obligation extends to workplace Christmas parties. In some instances, an employer’s obligations can
extend to the ‘after-party’ too.
 Section 19 Work Health and Safety Act 2012.
 Section 106 Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
Here are some practical steps an
employer can do to ensure that
the Christmas party is safe and
fun for everyone:
1. Remind all employees of your sexual harassment policies. If you don’t have a sexual harassment policy, get one. Sexual harassment is a serious issue, and it can have catastrophic consequences for victims and the workplace. It’s an issue that deserves a well thought out, appropriate, and effective policy.
2. Set behavioural expectations early. Let employees know in advance that any form of sexual harassment or abuse will not be tolerated and that all employees will be expected to follow normal workplace behavioural standards.
3. Ensure that there are senior, trusted and sober members of staff at the Christmas party to ensure that any anti-social and inappropriate behaviour is stopped and there is a sober person of whom a disclosure/complaint can be made to. This person should be someone who understands the gendered nature of sexual harassment and a person with authority within the workplace.
4. Let your staff know that they should feel comfortable calling out anti-social and inappropriate behaviour in a safe manner. Let your staff know that if If a woman discloses any sexual harassment
that she will be listened to and the complaint will be investigated and
actioned. All workers must understand that there will be
proportional disciplinary action for any anti-social and inappropriate behaviour.
5. If you are providing alcohol, have a cut off time for alcohol and stick to it. There are case examples of employers who have been held to be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, where the employer has fostered an environment which allowed the misconduct to occur.
6. Ensure that your workers can get home safely by holding the Christmas party in a central location with private and public transport options. If there is alcohol available at the party, consider providing all workers with a cab charge.
*We recognise that men are also victims of sexual harassment. We have chosen to use gendered language due to the overwhelming statistical evidence that women are more likely to be the victims of sexual harassment and men the perpetrators.
Learn more about this:
If you would like to learn more, have an issue with sexual harassment in your
workplace or are generally looking for training on sexual harassment please contact
the Working Women’s Centre SA Inc on 08 8410 6499 or alternatively email us at
Always was, Always will be.
The Working Women’s Centre Inc SA Management Committee and Staff acknowledge that the Kauna people are the traditional and continual custodians of the land upon which we carry out our work. First Nations’ sovereignty has never been ceded.