Employers organising out-of-office Christmas parties still need to be aware of their health and safety responsibilities to staff, warns an employment lawyer.

Regardless of where that event takes place, and whether it's inside or outside a company's normal working hours, owners and senior managers could be liable if a worker is injured or harmed, says employment expert and partner at law firm Buddle Findlay, Sherridan Cook.

"The company, by putting on a Christmas party, still has health and safety responsibilities to workers and needs to ensure that the event is planned and executed responsibly in having regard to what's going to happen there."

"And so, if someone is hurt then potentially the company could be liable from a health and safety perspective, but whether it is actually would depend upon measures it had taken to manage [the event] responsibly."


Cook says this can include ensuring the event space is appropriate for what's happening, making sure there is enough food and planning for people leaving at the end of the night by either providing or organising for taxis and other means of transport to get home being available.

A company also has to allow employees to take paid sick leave – providing they have the days available – even if they injure themselves at a work Christmas party due to their own negligence.

"It doesn't matter how an employee is sick or injured, provided they're sick or injured then they're entitled to take paid sick leave," Cook said. "And they'll still get ACC too."

In addition, dismissing those who have been off work for a long period of time due to injury is a tricky minefield.

"The prognosis is the most important thing. How long will it take until they come back and do their job.

"So even though an employee might have been away for a year, that doesn't mean that you can then dismiss them because that's been a long time, it's more about how long it takes them to come back.

"If [an employee's] been away a year but saying 'we're going to be back at work full-time in two weeks' time', then you're unlikely to be able to just dismiss them," Cook said.

Cook says it's essentially about being a responsible host.