Legal Pitfalls at Christmas

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Legal Pitfalls at Christmas

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash

Christmas is coming.  Along with all of the good cheer come some legal pitfalls which you should be on the lookout for.


What happens if that wonderful, specially selected Christmas gift is delivered the week after Christmas?  Do you still have to pay for it – you’ve had to run out and buy something else on Christmas Eve and no longer want it.  Yes, you do. Unless you have specifically told the salesman that it must be available before Christmas or you don’t want it, and those terms have been agreed before you confirmed the order then you must complete the purchase.

And what if your gift is wrong, wrong colour, wrong shape or just doesn’t work.  You are legally entitled to a refund, exchange or repair if a product is faulty, does not do the job it is supposed to do, does not match the description or sample shown at the point of sale, or does not last for a reasonable time. Some stores offer a refund or exchange for reasons other than these to generate goodwill and return business. However they do not legally have to do this. Most stores require proof of purchase before offering to refund or exchange on products, so make sure you have any receipts or paperwork when returning an item.


What are your rights if your holiday away is washed out, blown away, or cancelled because of bushfires?  You may not be entitled to a refund. When renting holiday accommodation, make sure you read and sign a written agreement that clearly sets out your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of the property agent or owner. The booking agreement should include your rights when cancelling accommodation, and when you are entitled to a refund. Be sure to check agreements before leaving home, and take a copy on holiday with you. Some accommodation providers or travel agents might refund for reasons not included in the booking terms and conditions to build goodwill, however they do not have to do this.


Employers should be on guard against the office Christmas party pitfalls.  Your legal liabilities do not disappear just because the social function is not held at the office premises. The usual range of obligations under the Occupational Health & Safety Act, Anti-Discrimination Act, Crimes Act, contracts and tort of negligence all apply.

Heading the danger list is too much alcohol, sparking offensive comments, loud-mouthed behaviour, sexual harassment and bullying.  Bar and restaurant staff must be aware of their obligation to serve alcohol responsibly. Bosses should remind staff that getting drunk at the workplace Christmas party is not an excuse to sexually harass co-workers.  Companies also have a responsibility to ensure that workers get home safely, which means you should organise car pools, cab vouchers, or possibly even a bus.

“Kris Kringles” or “Secret Santas” can be a minefield.  Such gifts have the potential to breach the Anti-Discrimination Act, which holds employers liable for complaints of harassment or discrimination. There should not be sexually explicit gifts to co-workers who may interpret the gesture as offensive or an unwanted sexual advance.


Alcohol is the catalyst in many a Christmas legal drama.  Whether it is a driving offence whilst trying to get home after an over-exuberant social function, or a more serious assault charge when old family reminiscing gets out of hand, alcohol can “loosen the reins”, so to speak.