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After work drinks 101: Lessons for Jamie Briggs (and other bosses) - Australian Financial Review

By Alan J. McDonald


Jamie Briggs should have been the first person to leave the Hong Kong bar during last month’s ministerial visit. At least that’s what employment lawyer Alan McDonald says.

Mr McDonald, a managing partner at McDonald Murholme, said that as a general rule a senior leader should be the first person to leave the party.

“If you want to be sociable and go to a bar late at night that’s fine, but as a senior person you should be the first one to leave, and you should leave fairly early,” Mr McDonald said.

The Minister for Cities resigned on Tuesday after he admitted to behaving inappropriately with a female Australian diplomat during a late-night drinking session at a Hong Kong bar in late November. Mr Briggs was on an official visit at the time.

Federal Cities Minister Jamie Briggs resigned in the wake of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour with a colleague late at night in a bar.

Mr Briggs said he decided to resign because of the concerns the public servant raised and the fact he was “at a bar, late at night while on an overseas visit”.

Mr Briggs is reported to have kissed a young, Hong Kong-based DFAT employee on the neck, before suggesting she had piercing eyes and putting his arms around her.

Mr McDonald said senior leaders like Mr Briggs should watch their alcohol intake at work functions so they do not inadvertently encourage excessive drinking among their subordinates.


“You shouldn’t go beyond the social drink, whatever the social drink is. It’s one or two, not four or five,” he said.

“You need to be very careful not to fraternise with employees and drink too much because there is a risk you encourage them to do the same thing and you’re creating a problem for yourself.”

Mr McDonald said some senior leaders also overstep the mark because they feel obliged to befriend their employees and stay too long at work functions.

“Sometimes the employer gets the false impression they must befriend their employees and be their best friend. I think he [Mr Briggs] got the line a bit confused there,” he said.

“It’s tempting to be involved in after hours drinks but you really have to let employees have their own time. If you want to wind down make it very short. Anything more than 15 to 20 minutes there is a risk people will lose track of time, and make sure it’s not more than half an hour because people reach for that extra drink.”

Prior to the sexual harassment scandal, Mr Briggs had a reputation as a “party boy” within the government after smashing a marble table and trying to crash tackle Tony Abbott on the night of the Liberal Party leadership spill.


But Hannah Ellis of The Workplace Employment Lawyers said there was no hard and fast rule on when it is time to go home. She said she was aware of an incident where a senior manager came knocking on his staff member’s apartment expecting sex at 6am during an overseas trip.

“Some people will always make poor decisions. Some harassers will harass at 9am in the morning and others will need 20 drinks” Ms Ellis said.

Ms Ellis said it would be unrealistic to impose a ban on after work drinks during overseas trips.

“In reality that’s what happens on overseas trips. People want to debrief, whether at a lobby bar or at some nice hotel restaurant somewhere. I think it’s difficult to say you shouldn’t be doing it, or you should only have two drinks or 10 drinks,” she said.

However, Ms Ellis said people who had the propensity to drink too much and behave inappropriately should give themselves curfews before going out to avoid trouble.

“If you give yourself a time limit in your head before you go, then you won’t get caught up in the moment and get swallowed by the excitement.”

One-off sexual harassment incidents typically attract a compensation of between $8000 and $10,000, Ms Ellis said.


Seyfarth Shaw employment lawyer Justine Turnbull said the government took an “unusually long time” between the complaint and the resignation. She said a turnaround period of two weeks would have been more appropriate given the case was straightforward and good employers should try to resolve matters quickly.

“It doesn’t seem like a complex case to me. It seems they went out to a bar, he drank too much and she complained,” Ms Turnbull said.

Ms Turnbull said sexual harassment could be career breakers in the modern workforce and older workers should be aware of the risks.

“To be frank, older guys in the white collar workforce don’t understand that times have changed and cultural expectations have changed. And young people don’t drink as much either. So sexual harassment claims have been increasing in number and prominence,” she said.

Reference: ‘After work drinks 101: Lessons for Jamie Briggs (and other bosses), The Australian Financial Review Online, 30th December 2015.