We’ve all heard humorous stories of holiday parties going awry – but such stores are no laughing matter for employers. Inappropriate employee behavior at a party can have far-reaching consequences, including legal liability for you. Not only that, a poorly planned holiday party can create potentially discriminatory situations before the first guest even arrives.
This article give you essential pointers to avoid unintended problems stemming from what can be a fun and rewarding occasion.
- Limit alcoholic beverages
- Set guidelines for gifts
- Appoint hosts/hostesses
- Enforce company policies
- Avoid discriminatory practices
- Take care when requiring attendance
- Set ground rules around the use of social media
Limit alcoholic beverages
If you serve alcohol at the party, here are some ways to minimize problems (such as sexual harassment or physical injury) and any resultant claims or effects on the cost of your workers compensation coverage:
- Hand out no more than 2 drink tickets to each employee, to limit the amount of alcohol provided.
- Provide food before opening the bar – this enables the body to metabolize alcohol more slowly.
- Hold the party at an outside establishment that assumes responsibility for serving the alcohol, or hire a third party to serve the alcohol on premises. Have a firm policy in place NOT to serve intoxicated employees, and to stop serving alcohol well before the end of the party.
- Have designated drivers or cab service for those who still manage to become intoxicated.
Set guidelines for gifts
“Gag” gift exchanges can easily create problems if employees don’t share a common sense of humor. Set guidelines around any gift exchanges in advance, so that everyone knows what to expect and can raise any objections well before problems arise.
If no one feels responsible for the party, events are more likely to spiral out of control. Give designated hosts and/or hostesses responsibility for addressing any problem behaviors in real time, and ensuring that the company-sponsored portion of the event ends on schedule.
Enforce company policies
Just about every law that applies to the workplace also applies to holiday parties. For that reason, your company policies, which among other things support compliance with these laws, must also apply. Employees should follow all company policies while attending the party, including the dress code. Remind them of these requirements beforehand, and be prepared to discipline employees in the event of policy violations afterwards.
Avoid discriminatory practices
Be mindful of federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. While some holiday decorations, such as Santa Claus, can be considered secular in nature, avoid focusing on one particular religious tradition. To avoid unforeseen issues, invite employees of all faiths to participate in the naming and planning of the event.
Take care when requiring attendance
In general, you can require attendance at the holiday party. However, requiring hourly employees to attend the party without compensation may violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). (Keep in mind that handing out bonuses at the party may also be construed as requiring attendance.)
Set ground rules around the use of social media
Your social media policy for the party should mirror the overall social media policy of the company. Remind employees of any restrictions on the posting of proprietary or protected company or client information. Particularly if you serve alcohol, you may want to consider taking the additional step of prohibiting the use of cameras and cell phones at the party. This will help prevent the unnecessary posting of photographs on social media that could embarrass employees, or damage the morale or reputation of the company.
Follow these tips to maximize your odds of running a successful holiday party! Contact us for assistance or if you have any questions.