“Lose the mistletoe” and other sound advice for your year-end parties

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Although a year-end Company “holiday” party is a nice opportunity for employers to show their appreciation to employees for their work over the course of the year, these events are a perennial HR headache as the legal risks abound if employers are not careful. Here are some tips for planning such events that apply any time of the year:

  • Serving alcohol at Company events is usually the predominate risk factor. As such eliminating alcoholic beverages from such events altogether is highly recommended. We know. It’s not as fun sober, especially when it comes to socializing with certain co-workers. So, if you are going to serve alcohol at a function, you can reduce the risk somewhat by:
    1. limiting the amount of alcohol served to each person—use, for example, drink tickets, serve drinks with lower alcohol content, and/or cut off alcohol service before the end of the event;
    2. hiring professional bartenders who can regulate how the alcohol is served and are trained to observe when some has had too much to drink;
    3. assigning certain managerial employees to monitor employees and watch for signs of excessive alcohol consumption or other inappropriate conduct, and training them on how to handle such situations;
    4. serving substantial food; and
    5. providing a means of free transportation home, such as ride vouchers of some sort or reimbursing the cost of the transportation service.
  • If the employer does not want to treat the time spent at the event as compensable time, it should notify the employees in advance that attendance is entirely voluntary, and there should have no business conducted during that time.
  • Employees should also be notified that the Company’s rules of conduct and harassment policies still apply to the event, and that inappropriate conduct or attire are not allowed.
  • Avoid overtly religious references that could make others feel excluded or marginalized. This would not apply to many Christmas traditions and symbols that are sufficiently secular and widely embraced so as to not create a religious discrimination issue.

Advance written notice to employees regarding standards of expected conduct at these events is recommended, especially if alcohol is being served or if the event is off-site. Happy and Safe Holidays!!!