Holiday Party Pitfalls

Dec 07, 2015

As the year winds down, one thing most employees can count on is that their employer-sponsored holiday party will be coming up. Many employers believe such parties are an excellent tool to increase morale and provide a much-needed break in the workday to their employees. These holiday parties, however, raise employment issues that all employers and employees should consider prior to kicking off the holiday celebrations. Here are a couple points everyone should keep in mind when celebrating with their co-workers:

  1. Many employment lawyers would recommend keeping religion out of company holiday parties. Some employees do not have any religious affiliation and do not celebrate any of the December holidays, such as Christmas or Hanukkah. Consider using terms such as “Holiday Party” or “Winter Celebration” for your party so that all of your employees feel included.
  2. Remember, the employer’s duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace extends to work-related events, including the annual holiday party. Examples of sexual harassment include uncomfortable flirtation, inappropriate comments about someone’s appearance or outfit, mistletoe decorations, gag gifts, and Santa asking employees to sit on his lap. The relaxed, and sometimes drunken, atmosphere at your holiday party is not a defense to unwanted touching and other inappropriate behavior that would not be tolerated in the workplace. 
  3. Keep alcohol consumption in moderation. Frankly, limiting alcohol consumption would likely reduce the impaired judgment that may lead to the inappropriate behavior discussed above. (Additionally, some suggest inviting employee spouses/partners to the party, as their presence may keep the inappropriate conduct to a minimum.) 

There are also the liabilities associated with employees driving while intoxicated and possible third party injuries as a result (i.e., automobile accidents and physical fights). An employer can take precautions to prevent the liabilities associated with alcohol. Many employment lawyers would recommend employers hold holiday events free of wine, beer and liquor all together. If alcohol will be served, ensure that you hold the party off-site at a bar or restaurant with professional bartenders and its own insurance; that you serve only wine and beer and not liquor; that an employer limit the amount of drinking by having a specific end time to the party; or that you make employees pay cash for their beverages or offering drink tickets (only two free drinks per employees to control consumption, for example). Certainly, employers should provide alternative transportation for those who overindulge, including free taxi or van rides home. Any social media postings of the party should be appropriate also.

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even if you may be successful in any lawsuit and found not legally liable for conduct occurring at your holiday party, you may still spend thousands of dollars proving it. Following these tips will keep your holiday party fun and allow everyone to return to work on Monday feeling comfortable.

If you have any questions concerning holiday party pitfalls or other employment issues, please do not hesitate to contact Holly A. Corkery at Lynch Dallas, P.C. at hcorkery@lynchdallas.com or 319-365-9101.



Category: Employment Law

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