Party-going employees are being warned the office Christmas bash is "not a night out with your mates".

But a Wairarapa venue owner says tight budgets are limiting boozy work parties.

The comments follow the case of a manager who was recently accused of sexual harassment after he wore a "graphic and prominent phallic symbol" on the front of his Santa suit at an office Christmas party.

Angela Roskam told an Employment Relations Authority hearing she was forced to resign from the Alsco laundry in Dunedin after she accused production manager Tony Fallows of sexual harassment.

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The ERA ruled the incident did not constitute sexual harassment.

Greytown's TurkeyRed hotel and venue hire owner Marilla Rankin said businesses could no longer afford to put on the full spread for their staff. And less money spent on the bar usually meant better behaviour.

"It's a sign of the times. People are really tight on their budgets."

More people were opting for Christmas lunches than the full end-of-year bash.

Even so, career specialist and author Tom O'Neil said employees should remember the office Christmas party was "not a night out with your mates".

"A friend of mine was at a work function where a guy was stripped of all his clothes, put on a packing bench, tags attached to various parts, black vivid tattoos all over. Then his wife arrived to pick him up."

The work bash was a chance to have fun, not destroy your personal brand, he said.

"Everything you do will impact your ability to deliver the goods during the other 364 days of the year."

Keeping a few things in mind could help you to avoid disaster, he said.

"Don't talk to your manager after 10pm ... you will end up telling them how they can improve their management style."

Eating before you hit the bar, alternating your drinks with water and buddying up with someone who could let you know if you've crossed the line could also protect your dignity.

But ruining your reputation isn't the worst that can happen.

In December 2000, broker Gareth MacFadyen, 24, died after a colleague lit his grass skirt on fire at the Merrill Lynch Christmas party in Auckland.

Mr MacFadyen was in the toilet cubicle with a female colleague when Matthew Schofield reached under the partition and set his work buddy's costume alight.

The pair suffered horrific burns and Mr MacFadyen died three days later. APNZ