Here are a few guidelines to keep your company’s risk low(er) as celebrations hit a holiday high.
Time and Place
- It might seem cost effective to have cake and wine in the break room, but self-serve alcohol is generally a risky approach. Hosting a party at a restaurant or venue means third-party establishments play a role in responsibility and insurance for injuries associated with food and drink.
- To avoid wage and hour claims, pay your people to be there. Consider doing it during the work day so you aren’t butting in on their personal time, requiring people to pay a babysitter and taking up their precious weekend time during the holiday season. Your employees are also likely to consume less alcohol if it’s a daytime gathering.
- If you’re going to serve alcohol at the party, avoid hard liquor–it can accelerate inebriation. Instead, limit offerings to wine and beer. To offset the effects of alcohol, be sure to serve food.
- Limit the number of free alcoholic drinks to curtail excessive drinking. An easy way to do this is by giving a small number of drink tickets to each employee.
- Be sure to set a clear cut-off time for the party. Managers and supervisors should leave at the cut-off so that employees wanting to socialize longer are doing so on their own time. Make clear the party is over at the designated time.
- While it may be boring to do so, the safest path for managers and supervisors is to either not drink at all or limit themselves to one or two drinks. They should remain clear-headed during the party. Employment Law Axiom No. 27 “You’re more likely to do something stupid after you drink three beers.”
- Think about how employees will get home safely. Limit the risk of drunk driving or injuries by offering some transportation options, such as rideshare services. At the same time, keep in mind that making a big deal out of offering free rides may encourage some folks to drink more. It’s probably best to keep an eye on the folks who are indulging and quietly make arrangements for their transportation.
- Particularly for employees in HR, management, or supervisory positions, remember that the office party is still work time. It’s not a license to reveal confidential information about other employees or the company just because there are decorations in the room.
- Speaking of lips, no mistletoe. It’s all fun and games until someone gets uncomfortable. Remind employees that gifts need to be appropriate, which means no mistletoe or anything prone to innuendo. If you haven’t had training on sexual harassment recently, it’s a good time to start planning for that. In the meantime, it’s helpful to send a quick email with some guidelines for the office party.
- Alcohol can often lead to flirting and physical contact that might not take place in a sober environment. Include a reminder about the company’s sexual harassment policy when you send the office party invitation.
Remind managers and supervisors about their responsibilities and liabilities.
- While it’s common to label the party a “Christmas” party, it’s best to stick to non-denominational descriptions. You’re better off with an “end of the year” or “holiday” party to avoid claims of religious discrimination.
You can always wish a colleague Happy Hanukkah or Merry Christmas on a personal level, but the official company messaging should not be tied to a particular religion.
Give Yourself an Early Holiday Gift
If you would like help updating policies or training employees in time for the holidays, an employment law expert can help. Please contact the experienced Atlanta business attorneys at Stanton Law, email Todd Stanton at [email protected], or give us a call at 404-531-2341.
We can help you understand your risks and responsibilities so everyone can have a happy holiday season!