Sue Me Under The Mistletoe: Holiday Parties

As the holiday season has quickly come upon us, many companies opt to throw a party! We’ve all heard some Holiday party horror stories – and if you haven’t, check out Inc.com’s list of holiday party faux-pas! But all jokes and horror stories aside, holiday parties can be a real source of liability for employers! Have no fear!  Peoplescape is here to help guide your party planning committee on how to limit  liability.

Naming the event

Every good event should have a name! In the case of holiday parties, remember the name needs to be inclusive of all cultures, religions, etc. Do not call it a Christmas Party, try something neutral like Holiday Party or Year-End Celebration. This will avoid anyone feeling left out, uncomfortable, or discriminated against for not being included.

Location

Pick a location that is neutral and appropriate like a common area in the office or a banquet room at a hotel/restaurant. Picking a place like a nightclub may encourage employees to “let loose” more than what is appropriate for work event. Also, remember any location selected should be up to date on ADA compliance!

Attire

On the invite, be sure to spell out what the expected attire is. This can range anywhere from casual to formal, but remember to consider your workforce. A formal attire event is a great idea on paper, but will your workforce have this attire on hand? Or are you inadvertently requesting they go out and spend money in order to attend? Will you be making it difficult or impossible for some to attend because finances are tight? Make sure you also make reference to what “appropriate” attire is. Some may use the Holiday party as an opportunity to wear something too tight or revealing that would not otherwise be appropriate for the workplace

Décor

Just like in naming the event, neutrality is key! While certain holiday decorations have been deemed secular in nature, do your best to select to keep things are neutral as possible. I wouldn’t recommend trying to appease everyone by having Christmas trees, menorahs, and symbols from every culture – inevitably you will miss one and that’s when some might feel left out! Try to stay with themes more around Winter Wonderland and snowflakes or neutral celebration symbols like flowers, balloons and candles.

Invites/attendance

This is an important consideration. Are spouses, significant others, and children invited? Is attendance mandatory? These details should be expressly stated on the invite. Remember, if attendance is mandatory, this is compensatory time under wage and hour laws and your hourly employees will need to be paid for their attendance at the party. Allowing your employees to bring a “plus one” or their entire family may put them at ease in this social situation. After all, the goal of the party is to spread good cheer and ensure everyone has fun, right?

Timing

Realize that the timing of your celebration could impact attendance if family members are not invited. For example, a Friday evening event without family may make it hard for employees to find childcare or they may not want to give up an evening with their significant other. If the celebration is during working hours, try to make sure employees are given plenty of warning so they can avoid calendar conflicts with meetings, etc. Timing can also be a consideration of when the party is scheduled. Planning a celebration during the month of December could conflict with certain religious holidays or other holiday plans. Some companies have opted to do their holiday celebration in January to avoid any kind of conflict with religious holidays.

Conduct

As this is a company event, it’s good to remind employees that their behavior, attire, and etiquette at the party should remain work-appropriate. Citing important policies like anti-harassment, dress codes, and confidentiality policies may be helpful and let’s everyone know disciplinary action can be taken if conduct is inappropriate.

Food

When considering your food options, make sure it is inclusive! Consider offering a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option! This will support that neutral and respectful accommodation of everyone’s diverse dietary needs and beliefs.

Alcohol

This is one of the most important decisions to make! Will alcohol be served? If so, how will consumption be monitored or limited? Will the company be providing cab vouchers or transportation home from the party? You can consider closing the bar a few hours before the party ends or handing out drink tickets. If opting for the drink ticket method, make sure measures are in place so employees cannot collect other employee’s unused tickets. I’d also recommend having an outside bartender serve the alcohol. Make sure this bartender knows not to serve anyone underage or who is already intoxicated. Let employees know IDs will be checked for anyone consuming alcohol. As many employees will enjoy the free booze, make sure there are also ample non-alcoholic options for those employees who do not drink.

Name a host

Every good party has a host that is keeping everything in order! In this case, the host or hosts will be ensuring conduct is appropriate. If someone seems to have had too much to drink, the host should assist in calling a cab or arranging transportation. If jokes start going a little too far, it may be time to coyly change the topic of discussion!

Just don’t do it!

No matter what type of party you choose, there are some things you should just NEVER do. In this case – Mistletoe! While it is a nice festive thing in your home, at work, giving an unsuspecting coworker a smooch because they’re standing under the mistletoe crosses way too many lines! I know it’s fun, but at work – please! Just don’t do it!!

Have Fun!

Holiday celebrations are planned to boost employee morale and build a sense of kinship with everyone in the company. To avoid horror stories, and to make sure the morning (or Monday) after can still be almost as fun as the night before, keep the party inclusive, neutral, and respectful. Have fun in a responsible and professional manner and the office won’t be a scary place the next day.

Happy Holidays!