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Tips For Employers To Avoid Holiday Party Pitfalls

November 2018

CSG Labor & Employment Law Alert

’Tis the season for the annual office holiday party. Company holiday parties are a great way for employees to unwind and celebrate the holidays and all of the year’s accomplishments; however, these parties are also ripe with potential pitfalls for employers. Here are some tips to help employers keep the office party from turning into a breeding pool for workplace harassment and other potential liability.

Keep The Eggnog In Check

Most often alcohol is the common denominator in office holiday party mishaps. After a couple of drinks, inhibitions are lowered and employees may engage in conduct or comments that are inappropriate for the workplace. Therefore, limiting or even eliminating the alcohol served at a holiday party may reduce the risk of employees behaving badly. Here are some ways employers can control alcohol consumption:

  • Hold the party on a weekday, and during the afternoon, as opposed to having a nighttime or weekend event.

  • Hire professional bartenders that are trained to identify intoxicated guests and will refuse to further serve them. Do not have a self-serve bar where employees make their own drinks and serve themselves.

  • Limit the number of drinks served by utilizing drink tickets or making it a cash bar.

  • Limit the type of alcohol served. Consider only serving beer and wine as opposed to hard alcohol.

  • Stop serving alcohol before the party ends so that employees are not drinking until the last minute.

  • Serve plenty of non-alcoholic drink options.

  • Designate certain employees to monitor those partaking in the drinking festivities and task them with ensuring no intoxicated employees drive home.

  • Provide safe transportation home for any intoxicated employees, including taxis, Ubers or other designated drivers.

  • If alcohol is going to be consumed, employers should strongly consider holding the event offsite for insurance and liability purposes.

Help Your Employees Avoid Ending Up On The Naughty List

It is critical to remind employees that, even if the party is offsite and not during working hours, employees are still obligated to comply with the company’s anti-harassment policies. Employers should recirculate the company’s anti-harassment policy to all employees prior to the party. If your company has not provided your employees with recent anti-harassment training, this is a good opportunity to do so.

Avoid any possible triggers for bad behavior at the party. For example, it is probably not a good idea to have Santa visit the party or to invite employees to sit on his lap, and best not to have any mistletoe. Also consider eliminating music or a dance floor to prevent dancing or any other scenario where inappropriate touching may occur.

Perhaps invite significant others or even entire families to the party. Having family present may encourage employees to remain on their best behavior.

It is also wise to keep the theme, décor and music for the holiday party non-religious. Rather than a “holiday” party, consider making it a winter social or snowy soiree. Sticking to snowmen and winter themes is the safest way to avoid offending or excluding any employees based on religious beliefs.

Even employers who take proper precautions cannot always prevent all bad behavior. Should a problem arise, it is critical that employers take every complaint seriously and thoroughly investigate the issue. Not only is a prompt and thorough response the best way to resolve a workplace issue, but it is also the best way for employers to protect themselves from having the behavior imputed to them.

Consider Not Decking The Halls At All

If the holiday party takes place after working hours, attendance should be voluntary and work related business should be avoided so employers do not have to pay non-exempt employees for their attendance. If the holiday party takes place during the workday, employers should determine whether or not they have to pay non-exempt employees for their attendance.

Some companies have decided to scrap the holiday party altogether for less risky alternatives, such as attending sporting events, going bowling, or having painting parties. Service projects have also become popular alternatives. Other companies have decided to add more team building activities throughout the year to build employee morale. Employers may also want to consider taking the holiday party budget and giving it back to employees in the form of a bonus or extra paid time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, particularly where numerous employees have stated this as their preference.

For more information on this topic, please contact your CSG attorney or the authors listed below.

Melissa A. Salimbene | Member | msalimbene@csglaw.com | (973) 530-2092

Lindsay A. Dischley | Counsel | ldischley@csglaw.com | (973) 530-2110