From Conferences to Christmas Parties, Work Events are often seen as a reward directed to staff but have the effect of not only amplifying the performance management pressures on the business, but creating whole new ones that must be considered and managed by the businesses in order to avoid disaster.  This weeks HR Highlight will touch briefly on this area and the newly released ACAPMA Employment Guide – Work Events, which is available to ACAPMA Members, expands on this vital area in more detail.

Work Events, extending the workplace

Work Events serve many purposes, but mainly, they allow for the team to come together and spend time as people, outside of a work context…but they are still colleagues, they are still staff, you are still their employer, and there is no escaping that this means there are still responsibilities and requirements placed on all parties to communicate, behave and respond appropriately.  This is a complicated area, that gives rise to many questions, which is why ACAPMA is releasing a dedicated Employment Guide on the subject, but broadly there are some things that should be considered, communicated and enforced when it comes to any Work Event.

Work Events extend the workplace, albeit temporarily, to include the Work Event location.  Businesses are responsible for ensuring that all staff have a safe workplace and system of work.  Businesses are also liable for the actions of their staff.  These elements combine to make any Work Event fraught with danger for the business.  Many businesses have abandoned them altogether, however they do serve a valuable bonding and recognition purpose, and can be managed well when consideration is given to the extended responsibility, and how best to manage that.

This extended responsibility of the business, results in a need to consider key areas of;

  • Compulsion to attend
  • Safety and professional conduct
  • Alcohol and increased “known risks”
  • Payment requirements
  • “Afterparty” events
  • Responses to incidents
  • …conferences and working events

Compulsion to attend:  Reward or a Burden

Work Events, like a Christmas Party or a Picnic Day or nice Team Dinner are often seen by the business as a way to reward staff, to say thank you for the year or quarter, or for your effort.  Saying thank you is an important part of building a functional team, as is bringing the team together regularly – which is particularly important in the context of fuel wholesale and retail, where staff often work alone or in small groups with little interaction with their colleagues.  It is important to remember however, that such events can not be made compulsory, and failure to attend such events due to other work or family commitments can not result in an exclusion of the employee for any reason, from the staff or from the business.

Safety and Professional Conduct

It is important at all Work Events that it is communicated BEFORE the event that while the business is looking forward to catching up with everyone outside of the workplace setting, it is important that all staff understand that this is still a Work Event and that professional conduct will be expected, and failure to meet that standard will result in the businesses policies and instructions being breached, which will be treated seriously, and may include performance management, retraining, termination or referral to the police.  It can be difficult to communicate this without coming across as “The Grinch” but it is important that everyone understand the importance of this instruction before the event, instead of being shocked at what could be serious consequences of actions later.

Safety is another concern, while employees tend to be adults, and therefore responsible for their own safety out of work, it is the businesses responsibility to give consideration to safe travel, conduct and activities.  Selecting events that are close to accessible transport options, or arranging safe travel are often key concerns.

Alcohol

The safety, and conduct concerns, increase dramatically when there is alcohol involved.  If alcohol is going to be present at an event, whether or not the business is providing or paying for the alcohol, the alcohol becomes a “known risk” to the health and safety of the employees.  Alcohol can increase the risk of them hurting themselves or others due to impaired judgement and reaction times.  This has implications on travel (driving) as well as conduct (including harassment, discrimination and bullying).  As the Work Event extends the workplace, the known risks in the workplace must be acknowledged and managed and that incidents are responded to.

Payment Requirements

For staff who are new to Work Events, the question may be asked “am I being paid to attend?”.  In most cases the answer will be no, on the basis that it is a social event not undertaking work tasks, and that there is no compulsion to attend, there are however, exceptions…

Afterparty Events

When a Work Event comes to an end is an important thing to consider.  The business has to give consideration to when work tasks need to commence the next day, how long staff had been working before the Work Event, fatigue and the combined impact of any alcohol.  The business also needs to consider where it draws the line over the extended workplace.  If staff decide to “kick on” at an afterparty does that extend the workplace?  The answer will depend on the business consent, payment and presence at the second event.  It is advisable that all Work Events have an end time, and that management clearly call the Work Event to a close at that time.

Responses to Incidents

When the business is made aware of any incident, complaint or poor conduct that occurs at a Work Event, it must respond.  It must be treated seriously, investigated and formal performance management processes followed. 

Conferences and Working Events

While a Work Event is one that the business has arranged for staff to attend, and typically amount to a reward or bonding experience, there is also the question of Conferences and Working Events, where staff attend events coordinated by other businesses as a representative of your business, undertaking work tasks at events, further complicating the approach.

All time worked, that is, doing work tasks, is to be time paid.  This has an interesting impact on staff who are attending Conferences in the course of their duties.  Conferences tend to have elements of work tasks, such as meetings with clients, and social elements, such as Gala Dinners.  In these circumstances some of the time would be paid, and some would not.  For example, simply because a sales representative is talking to a client or potential client at the bar at 2am after the big Gala Dinner, does not mean she is entitled to be paid overtime to that point, unless the business specifically compelled her to be at that bar until that time.  For many Conference attendees, the Conference attendance is part of their job role and part of their salary calculations, so there is an understanding between the business and employee about expected behaviour, remuneration and professional conduct and safety in the face of alcohol.

This is complicated when other staff are invited to attend overnight, conference or other third party organised events.  It is becoming common for staff to “win” through stellar performance, the right to attend large industry conferences, that blend travel from home, some work tasks and some social events.  This adds a layer of complexity, as such staff may be causal or otherwise paid by the hour, they may be unaccustomed to the need to maintain professional conduct and properly represent the business “brand” while in an industry social setting. 

Communication is everything

Addressing all of these requirements (and the issues below) requires communication and discussion and detailed joint consideration of all of the elements above – before the employee leaves for the Work Event, they should know exactly what is expected of them, exactly what they are being paid for and what is considered a “fun reward”, and what will happen if they go off the rails.

The Questions Keep Coming

The above has barley scratched the surface of the considerations when it comes to Work Events.  The business must also consider, craft appropriate responses to, and where appropriate, communicate;

  • Who pays for travel?
  • Who pays for meals?
  • What happens is an employee misses a flight?  Do they have to pay for a new flight and taxi etc or does the business? 
  • What happens if the employee does not appear for a Work Event like a Conference where they have work tasks?  Is that leave?  Should pay be withheld?
  • What happens if an employee RSVPs for a business paid event and then doesn’t turn up – can they be charged?
  • What happens if an employee asks for the “value” of the reward in cash?
  • What happens if an employee gets sick while at a Work Event like a Conference?  Does that count as Personal Leave?

These and other scenarios are worked through in the new ACAPMA Employment Guide – Work Events.  The Guide is available to Members, contact employment@acapma.com.au to request a copy of the Guide.

Here to Help

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business.  They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your particular situation by emailing employment@acapma.com.au to reach one of the ACAPMA Workplace Relations Professionals, its free for members.

Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)
Executive Manager Employment and Training
ACAPMA