Will Mistletoe and Egg Nog Invite Trouble to Your Holiday Party?

Written by Robert G. Brody and Abby M. Warren on December 20, 2012

Holiday parties are a great way to thank your employees for their hard work over the year and build the morale and spirit of the team.  Unfortunately, it can also be a time when otherwise well-mannered employees and supervisors behave in a way that leads to disciplinary actions, lawsuits, or other problems.  Employers should take time from this busy season to create a plan for their holiday party so it is memorable for all the right reasons.  Gather up your key players and the office party planners, and let’s discuss some common pitfalls you should anticipate at the party and ways to avoid them.

The first issue, and one of the biggest problems at holiday parties, is the consumption of alcohol and the subsequent behavior of your employees and supervisors as a result.  So, will you be serving alcohol?  If you are, consider hiring a professional bartender to serve the beverages.  A professional will be able to monitor alcohol consumption better than an amateur, and will serve drinks containing the correct amount of alcohol.  If alcohol is served, think about having a large amount of food for your partygoers so that they will not be consuming alcohol with an empty stomach; a good spread of food will also draw the focus off the bar.  Another way to cut down on alcohol consumption is by limiting the amount of alcohol available, such as having drink tickets with a two ticket maximum, or limiting the kind of alcohol (i.e. serving only wine and beer).  Employers should make sure they have a taxi service available should it be necessary.  In addition, if you are serving alcohol, review your insurance policy for any alcohol exclusions that may apply.

The second issue is coming up with a plan to monitor and control behavior so that it does not lead to sexual harassment.  As the employees and supervisors party and drink the egg nog and the crowd starts to dwindle, this may be a time when partygoers to engage in harassing or discriminatory behavior.  At some point before the party, employers should remind employees through internal communication that professional behavior is expected at the party, even if the party is held off-site.  It may be worth reviewing the harassment, discrimination, and dress code policies with employees before the party.  A great way for employers to avoid these issues is to set a good example at the party and to have your key players circulate during the party, keeping an eye out for this kind of behavior.  Employees may be less inclined to engage in this behavior with a boss, supervisor or manager standing several feet away.

The third consideration should be the guest list.  Will the party be for current employees only? Will spouses, significant others, and guests be invited? What about clients and vendors?  Sometimes inviting spouses and significant others can help tame the group.  If you allow employees to bring other guests, be careful that they do not bring employees who may have been terminated and who may disrupt the party or the atmosphere.  If this party includes clients and/or vendors, you may want to be even more careful to ensure that the party is professional and makes a good impression on those guests.

Lastly, employers should make attendance at the holiday party voluntary, not mandatory.  If an employee is injured doing the cha cha and files a worker’s compensation claim, it makes it easier for the employer to show that the injury should not be covered because the function was not work-related.  Also, if it is mandatory it may interfere with religious beliefs of some of the employees.

Remember – supervisors and management have the power to set good (or bad) examples of professionalism at the holiday party.

We wish everyone a happy holiday season.  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 info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.

About the Authors

Robert G. Brody is the founding member of Brody and Associates, LLC. He has been quoted and published in national publications and appears as a guest T.V. commentator on contemporary Labor and Employment issues. Learn More

Abby M. Warren is an Associate with Brody and Associates, LLC. She works on both Labor and Employment Law matters. Abby worked at the New Haven Superior Court. Learn More