Managing employment obligations over the holiday period—work parties, office closedowns and more

Work parties

Work parties are a great way to celebrate what has been a busy 2023 working year for most. However, employers need to be aware of their obligations in hosting these events from a health and safety perspective.

Employers are obligated under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to provide a safe working environment for all employees, contractors, and visitors on their site/premises. This obligation extends to events the employer organises, like work parties, even where the event is at an external location. Employers must ensure all those who attend (including staff plus ones) are safe at the event. Employers must take all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate risks to health and safety. If it is not possible to eliminate those risks they must be minimised as far as reasonably practicable.

Below are our key tips to ensure a fun and safe event:

  • Clear policies: Employers should have clear and concise workplace policies that define acceptable and unacceptable conduct. Policies should outline a zero-tolerance approach to workplace discrimination and harassment. Employers should ensure policies are readily accessible to staff and written in plain language.
  • Logistics of the event: Employers need to consider the time, date, and location of the work party, as they may influence how employees act at the event. For example, if the work party is being hosted at an external venue at 7.00 pm on a Friday through to the late hours, employees are likely to act differently than if the event is an afternoon lunch and activity.
  • Expectations communicated: Employers should communicate their clear expectations that all staff will treat each other respectfully and professionally at the event. Reference to workplace policies is also recommended. Employers should communicate clearly to employees they reserve the right to ask any person to leave the event if they pose a risk to others’ health and safety at the event (including being too intoxicated and exhibiting harmful behaviour, such as sexual harassment).
  • Assign a safety officer: We suggest assigning a senior staff member to be the safety officer for the event. This person can be the first port of call at the event if staff have any concerns, including if they consider they have been harassed, discriminated against or treated disrespectfully. The safety officer should be sober for the event.
  • Alcohol and food: Employers should monitor alcohol provided at the event and carefully monitor attendees’ intoxication levels. We suggest providing ample water and food to mitigate risk.
  • Travel to the event: If travel is required to get to the venue of the work party, employers should consider providing transport to and from the venue.

Closedown periods

A closedown period is when an employer customarily closes its operations for a period of time and requires its employees to take leave for that period.[1] Closedown periods frequently occur from late December into January of the next year, and usually span two to three weeks. Timeframes can vary depending on the industry.

When navigating annual leave over the closedown period keep in mind:

  • In the first instance, employers and employees should try to seek agreement as to when annual leave will be taken.
  • If agreement cannot be reached, an employer can require an employee to take annual leave with 14 days’ notice. We cover the situation where an employee doesn’t have enough leave below.
  • There are four public holidays which are likely to fall within a business’ closedown period: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, and the Day after New Year’s Day.
  • An employer can have different closedown periods for separate parts of its business.
  • An employer can only have one closedown period in any 12-month period.

What if an employee does not have enough leave?

If an employee doesn’t have enough annual leave to cover the whole or part of the closedown period, the employer can require the employee not to work over the closedown period and take leave without pay, provided they give  14 days’ notice.

If an employee is not entitled to annual leave from the start of the closedown period, the employer is required to pay the employee 8% of their gross earnings since the start of their employment or since the employee last became entitled to annual leave (less any amount paid to them for annual leave taken in advance[2]).

Employees in this situation can ask to take annual leave in advance, but the employer does not have to agree. Alternatively, employees may ask to return to work early, before the closedown period ends. Again, employers do not have to agree to this and they need to consider what tasks or responsibilities employees could carry out and how they could be managed. These discussions are best had well in advance of the closedown period.

What if an employee gets sick on annual leave?

If an employee, their partner, or dependant becomes sick or injured while on annual leave, the employee can request to take the period of sickness or injury as sick leave rather than annual leave.[3] An employer is not required to agree to this. However, if an employee is affected by family violence or a bereavement while on annual leave, an employer must allow the employee to take family violence or bereavement/tangihanga leave (if they are entitled to such leave) rather than annual leave.[4]


If you require any advice on the matters raised in this article feel free to contact a member of the Dyhrberg Drayton Employment Law team.

Paddy Miller, Associate and Will McMaster, Lawyer.

[1] Holidays Act 2003, s 29.

[2] Holidays Act 2003, s 34; Employers should also factor in whether the employee is covered by s 28 of the Holidays Act 2003 in calculating this payment.

[3] Holidays Act 2003, s 36.

[4] Holidays Act 2003, ss 37 & 37A.