‘Tis the season! As a small business owner, you may want to spread a feeling of good cheer and host a holiday party to mark the end of the year and as a way to show appreciation to your employees. However, the celebratory nature of a party can blur the lines between a professional and social event. It is important to remember that this is still a work function and you have a responsibility to provide an environment that not only keeps your employees safe, but also protects the company from any potential liability. Here are some tips if your company will be hosting a holiday party this year.
Policy Review: Prior to the event, sending an email to employees summarizing policies regarding harassment, conduct, and dress code can help remind them that their behavior at the party also reflects on their professional life. It is also advisable to remind your managers, team leaders, and supervisors that they set the tone for the party and should lead by example.
Be Inclusive: The holiday season encompasses many traditions, both religious and secular. Be careful not to alienate anyone. While the courts have held the opinion that wreaths and trees are considered secular symbols, and many offices do decorate around the holidays, remember that Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious observances and beliefs, as long as it can do so without undue hardship.
Attendance and Timing: Beware making attendance at the holiday party mandatory. While many people will want to attend, there may be some who do not. Also, you may have to pay nonexempt employees for their time spent at the party. This depends on whether or not you schedule the party during a typical work day or after hours. However, consider holding the party during the work day as most people are pressed for time during this season, and adding another obligation to an already crowded calendar may make some people “Grinchy”.
Eliminate or Limit Alcohol Consumption: Alcohol does lower people’s inhibitions and the possibility of bad behavior increases. The best way to avoid this and any potential liability to the company is to not serve alcoholic beverages at a work sponsored event. However, if you decide to include alcoholic beverages as part of the celebration, remember that the employer is liable for not only what happens at the party, but also whatever actions an intoxicated employee may take after leaving the party. Consider a cash bar rather than an open bar, provide for designated drivers or a car service to get people home safely, close the bar at least an hour before the party is over, and remember to provide plenty of non-alcoholic drink options.
This is the time of year we all want to celebrate and no one wants to be considered a Scrooge. It is possible to have a fun and festive work party while keeping the safety and well-being of your company and employees at the forefront.