Surviving the Holiday Party

November 20, 2009

Labor & Employment Update - Holiday Edition

To view the Holiday Edition, open the related file on the left.

‘Tis the season to plan for and enjoy the company holiday party. A much-anticipated morale booster for many employees, the annual festivities allow co-workers to socialize and have fun in a relaxed atmosphere of holiday cheer. But we’ve all seen employees relax too much at the holiday party, in the process damaging their careers and credibility, embarrassing themselves and their colleagues, offending their co-workers and creating employment liability while becoming stars in Monday morning’s most interesting watercooler stories.

Even Scrooge enjoyed holiday parties, so we’d never suggest cancelling yours. But in this season of lists we will humbly offer one more to help your business safely survive another office holiday party, and to keep its employees on the “nice” list and off the “naughty” list:

  1. Going off-site.
    Host the holiday party off-premises, not at the company. In these difficult economic times, it’s tempting to cut costs by having the party at your workplace. But the resulting cost savings can be short-lived--especially if the company purchases and provides alcohol on-site, it can increase its liability exposure for alcohol-related injuries and damages to employees and/or third parties.
  2. Going dry (or at least drier).
    Particularly if your party needs to be on-site, consider an alcohol-free breakfast, brunch or lunch. If alcohol will be part of your party, limit the time it is served. Depending on past practice, employee expectations and the nature of your business, consider hosting a partially cash or cash-only bar to encourage moderation. (And yes, we know, even Scrooge enjoyed his Christmas punch.)
  3. Going home safely.
    If the party will involve alcohol, plan safe transportation alternatives for employees. Consider in advance how “over-served” employees will be identified and provided safe transportation home. A call home for transportation, a designated driver or cab fare can prevent a holiday nightmare.
  4. Going off the clock.
    Hold the party after working hours and remind employees that they are invited, not required to attend.
  5. Going as couples.
    If your company’s budget allows, consider inviting employees’ spouses or significant others. Making it a family-friendly event can help keep it G-rated.
  6. Going by the rules.
    Issue a pre-party memo to employees giving them a polite reminder that appropriate behavior is expected and required by the company’s civility and anti-harassment policies, which are not suspended during the holiday party but intended to ensure an enjoyable celebration for all. Unfortunately, company-sponsored parties held both in and outside the workplace account for a disproportionate share of workplace harassment claims and allegations that alcohol-fueled “candor” and other lapses in good judgment degenerated into abusiveness.

By following these guidelines, a good time can be had by all and the company can better avoid a holiday party “corporate hangover.”

The foregoing has been prepared for the general information of clients and friends of the firm. It is not meant to provide legal advice with respect to any specific matter and should not be acted upon without professional counsel. If you have any questions or require any further information regarding these or other related matters, please contact your regular Nixon Peabody LLP representative. This material may be considered advertising under certain rules of professional conduct.

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