How to Have Less “Naughty” and More “Nice” at Your Office Holiday Party

by Derek Ross

It is that time of the year again when companies throw holiday parties to thank their employees for another year of hard work and to celebrate the season. Unfortunately, these happy holiday festivities can sometimes create a few legal pitfalls for employers.

If you are planning a holiday party, you may want to consider a few simple tips to help you keep the party fun and festive while reducing the likelihood of unwanted issues.

  1.  Avoid over-consumption of alcoholic beverages:
  • Remind and encourage your workforce to drink responsibly by sending out a company memo prior to the party.
  • Ditch the open bar! Having a “cash bar” will discourage overindulgence of some people.
  • If you prefer an open bar:
    • Simply limit the hours it is open, or
    • Hire a professional bartender that knows the signs of intoxication and knows what to do in certain situations, or
    • Provide a set number of “drink tickets” to each employee when they arrive. Two tickets are usually standard. After their tickets are gone, that’s it.
  • Have plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverage options available.
  • Have company-provided transportation where necessary. That could include taxi vouchers, shuttles or Uber & Lyft services in bigger cities.

2.  Avoid the dreaded office party harassment claim:

  • Avoid games or activities that might encourage inappropriate behavior that could give rise to a claim of sexual harassment.
  • “Christmas Party”? Respect the diversity of religious beliefs present in most workplaces.  Call the event a “Holiday Party”.
  • Remind employees of your discrimination and harassment policies prior to the party by sending out a company-wide memo.
  • Encourage spouses to attend. Doing so can decrease the risk of a sexual harassment claim.

3.  Comply with wage and hour requirements:

  • Remind employees that the event is “voluntary”.
  • Consider hosting the event outside of normal business hours.
  • Consider having the event off work premises.
  • It’s a party, not work! Do not conduct any trainings or bring up work-related topics.

We hope these simple recommendations help you throw a joyful company holiday party that is free of harassment. If you are an employer with questions about any of these issues, please reach out to one of our experienced Human Resources professionals.

East Coast Risk Management wishes you and your families a happy holiday season and a safe company holiday party.

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