How to Keep the Grinch From Your Company Holiday Parties: Tips for Employers to Avoid Liability

Posted on: December 18, 2019
In: Labor & Employment

By: Lewis Brisbois' Labor & Employment Team

As the holiday season gets into full swing, this is the time of year when many companies host holiday parties for their employees to celebrate the end of a successful year and to relax and unwind with colleagues. Although such gatherings are a great way to reward employees for their hard work, they can also present significant liability risks for employers if proper precautions are not taken. Here are some tips for making sure your holiday parties remain merry and bright!

  1. Remind Employees That Professional Conduct Is Still Required. The biggest potential problem at company gatherings is the potential for bullying and sexual harassment. Employees should be reminded in advance of the gathering that although it is intended to be fun and employees should relax, all company policies relating to harassment and standards of conduct still apply, and that employees will be disciplined for any inappropriate conduct.
  2. Have a Dress Code. Expectations regarding proper attire should be clearly set forth in advance. Festive attire may be allowed, and for evening parties, more formal attire may be acceptable, but employees should be reminded that they will be with work colleagues and therefore should keep their attire appropriate to a professional setting (i.e., no “Sexy Santa” costumes).
  3. Limit Alcohol Consumption. Although there is nothing wrong with allowing employees to kick back with a few adult beverages at a holiday party, it is important to take steps to try to prevent employees from over-indulging, which can lead to regrettable conduct, if not entertaining stories around the office the next day. Consider only serving beer or wine, or limiting the number of free drinks employees are provided by using drink tickets, or limiting the hours that alcohol is served, to reduce the risk of employees becoming overly intoxicated. And if alcohol will be served, make ride share services available for employees.
  4. Ensure That Attendance Is Voluntary. To avoid wage and hour claims, or workers’ compensation claims for any party foul-related injuries, make it clear to all employees that attendance is purely voluntary and that no work-related benefit or detriment will result from attending or declining to attend. And make sure that managers practice what is preached and do not allow attendance to impact work relations at all.
  5. Make It Inclusive. Ensure that employees of all religious and ethnic backgrounds feel included by avoiding having any overtly religious themes to a party – don’t make the party a Christmas theme, for example, but have a more generalized winter theme. Consider making it a family-friendly affair so employees with children can attend.
  6. Address Any Issues That Do Arise. Although proper planning can help reduce the risk that an incident will happen at a holiday party, there is still a risk that someone will engage in inappropriate conduct. Make sure employees know that the conduct should be reported and then make sure it is addressed promptly and with proper discipline.
  7. Have Fun! Ultimately, remember that the event is about allowing employees to relax and enjoy themselves with their colleagues outside of work, and encourage everyone to have a good, but responsible, time.
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