Three Dangerous December Words: HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Christmas, New Year’s, Chanukah, Boxing Day.  . . . The list goes on and on.  While most folks consider this the most magical time of year, management attorneys generally don’t share that sentiment.  Why?  Well, the last two weeks of the year normally result in a high increase in HR call volume to our offices, where the “magical” (yet slightly terrifying) phrase “Holiday Office Party” comes up time and time again.

Most companies do something special for their employees at year’s end.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, holiday bonuses, parties and gift exchanges are (in this humble employment attorney’s opinion) simply good HR practice.  However, before you plan a get-together for the office staff at the local watering hole, plan well and consider the following:

  1. Curb the Boozing.

It’s no mystery that allowing our employees to drink themselves silly (on your corporate dime) is asking for trouble.  Accordingly, while springing for some wine and beer is entirely appropriate, make sure you’re not turning the pleasant night out at the new Sushi place into your R&D department re-enacting Will Ferrell’s beer-bonging scene from “Old School.”

Great Idea?  Give every employee a couple drink tickets, not a key to an open bar.  If employees want to drink after using those tickets, they can buy their own for the rest of the night.  If you’re not doing a sit down dinner, spring for some appetizers to offset the alcohol.  Hire a bartender, rather than having Steve from Accounting, who knows nothing about mixing drinks, man the watering hole.  In short, make smart decisions.  Have fun, but make sure it doesn’t turn into rush week at Florida State.

2. Prevent Sexual Harassment.

The topic of the “workplace romance” is one for another blog post.  However, keep in mind that I have seen more sexual harassment claims arise from holiday office parties than from any other type of workplace related function.  Quite simply, booze + after hours get togethers can equal trouble.  Accordingly, consider the following:

* Don’t hold your party at a hotel bar.  Just trust me on this one.  Really.

* Encourage guests to attend.  While this may drive your eventual party cost up, people tend to behave when they are in front of their spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends.  It’s worth the added cost.  Plus, your employees will appreciate it.

* Make sure your Employment Handbook Addresses Off Site Conduct.  Any court is going to hold that you are liable for your employees’ bad behavior at a holiday office function.  Accordingly, make sure your handbook informs your employees that their obligation to behave in an appropriate manner extends past the four (or three) walls of their office cubicles.

I could go on and on here.  If you’d care to discuss in more detail, give me a call.  Otherwise, have fun this holiday season.  Just not too much fun . . . . .

Posted by Luke Lindberg