LABOR LAW NEWS
Company Holiday Parties: 5 Things HR Pros Worry About
By Kris Janisch
Published Dec. 12, 2019
Here are a few things to consider for your company’s holiday party so you don’t end up dealing with a legal hangover.
It’s that time of year: Companies hold holiday parties for their employees. And while they can be a good chance for employees to connect and celebrate, holiday parties often create plenty of compliance issues.
Holiday Parties at a Glance
A few quick notes on holiday parties:
- 76 percent of companies will host one (some surveys say it’s closer to 90 percent)
- More than half will serve alcohol
- 66 percent of employees believe it’s an unwritten rule to make an appearance
- 62 percent of employees don’t look forward to attending
- 14 percent say they regretted doing or saying something at an office party
With that in mind, here are a few items to consider for your company’s holiday party so you don’t end up dealing with a legal hangover.
While a drink or two can help people relax and feel more at ease, excessive drinking is a major source of the problems that arise at corporate holiday parties. In many states, companies can be held liable for employees’ drinking-related incidents — even if the party happens off-site.
There are a few simple steps organizers can take to limit the potential for trouble:
- Never host an open bar
- Don’t allow employees to mix their own drinks
- Offer drink tickets
- Hire a trained bartender who won’t overserve revelers
- Only serve beer and wine
- Serve food, as well
Supervisors should also set the tone with by limiting their own drinking or designating someone to keep an eye on alcohol consumption among employees.
Reminders about appropriate clothing, and not having a nightclub-like atmosphere, also can be helpful in curbing potential issues.
Of course, drinking also heightens the potential for a sexual harassment incident.
Before the party, it’s a good idea to redistribute company policies regarding appropriate behavior and remind employees that a holiday party (regardless of where it’s held) is an extension of the workplace. Also, should an employee report sexual harassment, HR teams should respond promptly and treat complaints seriously.
Lastly, don’t hang mistletoe. Just don’t.
People enjoy the holidays in different ways. Including activities for those who abstain from drinking or won’t enjoy office games is important to make all employees feel included.
Meanwhile, don’t make religion a focus of your holiday party. Note, however, that the courts have ruled decorations such as Santa Claus and a tree as secular in nature. Be considerate of your workers’ varied backgrounds.
Remember to invite your remote employees, as well.
Forcing Workers to Attend
Many employees fear reprisals for not attending the company holiday party. Make sure any communication about the party is clear about attendance.
It’s best to make the party optional and remind supervisors not to take adverse actions against employees who decide to skip it. Plus, if the event will be held after the workday, there may be concerns about paying employees for their time.
There’s an often-cited case from California in which a woman got home safe from an office holiday party. She then left her home and got into a drunk-driving crash. The company was held liable.
If your party will involve alcohol, determine whether offering employees an alternative way to get home makes sense. Tip: Provide a discrete way for the company to reimburse workers who take a cab or ride-sharing service after the party.
Also, it’s generally not a good idea to allow supervisors to drive subordinates home.
This post isn’t meant to throw a wet blanket on your holiday party planning. But experienced HR professionals know that this time of year can be fraught with compliance issues. Let common sense guide any decisions you make about the event.
This Labor Law News Blog is intended for market awareness only, it is not to be used for legal advice or counsel.
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