Hosting a holiday party has been a tradition among many companies as a way to reward employees, boost morale, and encourage team spirit. This year, fewer employers are planning to host a party. Based on a recent study, only two-thirds of companies intend to host a holiday party, the lowest percentage since 2009. Economic factors do not seem to be a reason as companies report tax savings and a thriving economy.
Among companies sponsoring a party, nearly 60 percent have real concerns about sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, especially in light of the #MeToo movement. More than half of these companies have addressed the #MeToo issue this year and if not, one-third indicated that they will do so prior to the party.
If you are planning a holiday party, there are some proactive steps that can be taken to lessen your company’s liability:
- Establish written anti-harassment policies and publish in employee handbooks; reference the policies prior to the holiday party
- Send a memo to remind employees to act responsibly and professionally (address company’s stance on pictures being posted to social media as well as the dress/attire for the party)
- Ensure employees understand attendance is voluntary (especially when held outside of normal work hours)
- The focus for the holiday decorations, music, and gifts should be seasonal in nature and not religious
- Emphasize to management that they should lead by example
- Consider having a holiday party in which no alcohol is served
- Hold the party offsite; it limits the company’s liability
- Set-up a cash bar—guests will drink less if they are required to pay
- If alcohol is served, set a tone of moderation. Consider providing a limited number of drink tickets per guest, restrict the types of alcohol served, and/or only serve alcohol for a limited time
- Consider featuring activities/games at the party, it encourages team-building and diverts attention away from cell-phones (also limits focus on drinking)
- When alcohol is present, offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food
- Stop serving alcohol toward the end of the evening and switch to coffee, tea, and soft drinks
- Arrange for alternative transportation; encourage employees and guests to use it if they consume any alcohol
While these tips are not a guarantee against holiday party problems, they can be a good foundation for an effective defense against liability if problems should come to pass.
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