The holiday season is in full swing, and what better way to celebrate the joyous season than with a festive soiree, right?  In many cases, this is the first time in a couple of years that employees are getting together for an in-person gathering.  Some employees may be ready to reconnect and cut loose.  So, this is an opportune time for a quick “refresher” on things employers should keep in mind to help keep all holiday parties ‘holly and jolly,’ and free from Grinchy legal issues.

Too much ‘Holiday Spirit?’

It’s important to remember that employment laws don’t take a break for the holidays.  A holiday party can be a great way to celebrate another year gone by and build comradery, but employers should remember, and remind their employees, that company policies still apply.  This includes, of course, policies against discrimination and discriminatory harassment.  And, with many employers choosing to serve alcohol at holiday functions, as you may guess, this could increase the odds that things could go sideways.  If the party gets too rowdy, or if a flirtation progresses into an inappropriate sexual advance, you may soon have a whole host of issues on your hands, ranging from the obvious sexual harassment claim to other issues, like workers’ comp claims, or liability to a third-party for damages caused by one of your merrymaking employees.

It’s also worth remembering that not all employees celebrate the religious aspects of the season.  Diversity makes the workplace a better, more productive place, and a holiday party should reflect the diversity of the workplace.  Beyond the fact that laws like Title VII protect against discrimination on the basis of religion, your holiday party should be a place of inclusion that makes all employees of any or no religious affiliation feel welcomed.

Last, remember that if you require employees to attend a company holiday party, be sure that employees are compensated accordingly.  Particularly, if parties are held on-premises during working hours, with mandatory attendance, chances are quite good this will count as compensable working time.

And, remember that there is risk that the organization could be on the hook for injuries occurring during these events, or for damage which may be caused by employees who may have been overserved at your holiday party.

With all of this in mind, here a few takeaways as you plan your holiday celebration:

  • If you do choose to serve alcohol at your holiday party, consider offering drinks with lower alcohol content, such as beer, wine, and hard seltzers, and serving food, too, to help slow the absorption of alcohol.
  • Consider having alcohol served by a professional bartender who can better recognize a visibly intoxicated person and/or limit the number of beverages available for each guest.
  • Make transportation available to and from the event.
  • Make sure it is clear to employees that their attendance is encouraged, but optional.
  • Provide a helpful reminder to employees (and supervisors) that the company’s policies against harassment and discrimination apply during company-sponsored events, just as they ordinarily apply during the workday.

The holidays are a time of celebration for everyone, and your holiday party should be, too. Remaining cognizant of the liability issues that may be associated with a holiday party can help keep things ‘merry and bright.’ As always, feel free to contact a member of the McNees’ Labor & Employment Group if you have any questions or concerns about your holiday party.  We wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!