Holiday Party: Ghosts of Holidays Past
If yours is like most businesses, it has been a couple of years since you have had a full-blown year-end holiday party. Many clients promise this year will be different. It is time to celebrate the successes of the prior year, boost employee morale, and shake off the COVID hangover many of us are still feeling. We agree, as long as employers remember they have obligations to their employees to ensure things don’t get out of hand.
The ghosts of holiday parties past remind us of stories of overindulgence, “good” natured (or not) teasing which often becomes unlawful harassment, real or perceived abuse of position/power, and liability and harm resulting from drunk driving. Not only are incidents like these inappropriate, they also expose the company to major liability – possible claims of unlawful harassment, workers’ compensation, personal injury and even wrongful death in the most horrible of examples.
While we don’t endorse Scrooge, a few prudent tips to ensure this year’s holiday party is filed with cheer while controlling your risks.
Remind Everyone That Respect for One Another is Your Commitment
Create a plan for your party that addresses potential issues. Remind employees that you expect them to follow all company policies, including those related to harassment, discrimination, and inter-office relationships.
Check everyone’s schedule. Is any part of your team unavailable due to business commitments? If so, can you schedule around that? Can you ask for volunteers to work and give them some added benefits or pay, plus a personal thank you for their sacrifice? Also be sure your schedule does not conflict with any religious or secular event that will cause internal conflicts for your team. So, if the big game is the same night, can you bring in a TV and make that part of the event?
Decide if you want to invite employees with or without guests. Whichever you choose, a good rule of thumb is to try to ensure employees do not bring former employees. Limiting guests to “significant others” will help with this. Also remember, sometimes the guests bring their own issues and they become yours.
Your party should not be specific to a particular religion but rather it should celebrate the prior 12 months and year-end. Or recognize everything. We know this irritates some people, but remember, being left out will undermine your efforts to building a team.
Avoid customs that encourage the wrong types of behavior such as hanging mistletoe or playing beer pong.
Lean on your Managers
Yes, the holiday party should be a time for everyone to relax and enjoy themselves, but we recommend you speak with your key managers in advance. Request they circulate at the party to ensure employees are acting responsibly. It is much easier to keep the party under control, than regain control that is lost.
Perhaps draft a plan assigning responsibility to key managers to monitor the reception area, main hall, parking lot, side rooms, bathrooms, and any other problem areas (including the bar). Impress upon these managers that you are relying on them to set the tone of the party. For smaller parties, consider having managers take shifts and be responsible for covering the entire area. Use this formality where you have had problems with the ghosts of parties past.
Have you ruined the party for your key managers? Maybe, and maybe they should get a special party or “thank you” of their own? It’s better to be safe than sorry, and many managers who you ask will feel a sense of pride in being chosen to help. It could be a win, win!
It is crucial to talk candidly with your key managers and decide if it makes sense to have alcohol at the party and if it does, consider:
- A venue that is not near a bar.
- Hold the party at a restaurant or off-site location with a liquor license and where alcohol is served by professional bartenders who are familiar with how to respond to guests who are consuming excessive amounts of alcohol (and also is properly insured incase things go wrong).
- Greet employees as they arrive to ensure only invited guests attend and that none have alcohol with them.
- Hold the party on a weekday or early in the day with a definite end time.
- Limit alcohol by using tickets, serving only beer and wine, or shutting the bar an hour or more before the end of the party.
- Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
- Have a taxi/Uber type service openly available in case it is needed. Consider picking up the tab for the service.
Make the Party Voluntary to avoid Workers’ Compensation Liability
Make attendance voluntary so if an employee is injured at the party, you can argue the injury was not work-related. However, it is important to remember, if you succeed, the company can be sued and workers’ compensation will not protect it. Be sure to pick your poison carefully.
Check your Insurance
Before the party, be sure to review your insurance (workers’ compensation and other policies) to determine your potential liability for employees, third parties, and alcohol exclusions.
Touch base with your key managers after the party to see if anything occurred of which you should be aware and ask employees how they liked the party. This is a good way to ensure that no problems occurred and if they did, to handle those issues proactively.
We offer assistance to management on these and all types of employment-related issues. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at email@example.com or 203.454.0560.