News & Insights

Respectful WorkplaceDecember 9, 2021by Todd StantonHow to keep your office holiday party from going off the rails, Part 1

Don't let fun celebrations turn into business nightmares. Limit your company’s risk and prevent the office holiday party from going off the rails with these guardrails.

‘Tis the season for holiday parties. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced offices to cancel gatherings in 2020, many companies will express their gratitude to employees for the first time in two years.

Between free alcohol, lots of mingling, and sometimes a destination venue, festivities can easily drift across legal boundaries. The last thing companies need are lawsuits that turn fun celebrations into business nightmares.

Here are our first three best practices that limit your company’s risk and prevent the office holiday party from going off the rails. 

  1. Do not get drunk and do not let employees get drunk.
    If your company decides to serve alcohol at the holiday party, plan ahead. As we all know, you are more likely to do something stupid after three beers.

    Set and communicate clear boundaries. Forgo hard liquor and be sure to serve food with wine and beer. Another best practice is to limit the number of free alcoholic drinks to reduce excessive drinking by simply providing a limited amount of drink tickets to each employee.Designating an alcohol cut-off time for those at the party is another clear-cut boundary. If employees would like to socialize longer, they are welcome to do so or extend the festivities on their own time. But we don’t recommend keeping the company-provided venue open afterwards. Make a clear announcement that the party is over and folks need to depart.

    Also, recognize that sending employees on their merry way is also your responsibility. Thinking through how employees will get home will help the risk of drunk driving problems.  But keep in mind that announcing beforehand the company will provide transportation home may encourage folks to drink more.

    Finally, supervisors should either avoid drinking or limit the number of alcoholic drinks to one or two. This allows those in charge to be sober-minded if decisions have to be made.

  2. Make the center of the party something other than the bar.
    Too often, the bar is the center of the party. Alcohol mixed with socializing can accelerate inebriation and add unnecessary stress and risks to your holiday celebration 

    No one is suggesting you should host a boring gathering; removing the focus from the bar allows you to spotlight another activity. Use this new attention to exchange gifts, share a meal, or buy and wrap presents for those in need. Your team could go visit a children’s hospital or partake in team-building activities. Not only does this limit risk, but this opportunity to give back reinforces culture, mission, and values. Often, working shoulder-to-shoulder with co-workers for a greater purpose, bonds teams like no other activity and can turn into a favorite tradition.

  3. Host your party during regular business hours.
    It is fun to dress up for an evening with your colleagues or spend a weekend on a company holiday retreat, but after-hour gatherings are more likely to open the environment up to flirting, physical contact, and harassment.Hosting your holiday party during regular business hours provides a fun, yet professional culture. A work-time gathering with HR, management, and supervisors present also further emphasizes to employees that company rules and confidential information policies still apply regardless of whether there are lights strung and decorations glistening.

    Lunches or afternoon events are less likely to invite unruliness and debauchery. A holiday party during business hours also highlights the value that employers have for camaraderie on the company dime and does not create another obligation that pulls employees away from their families.

    Rather than put a damper on your holiday fun, setting clear boundaries can make your team feel celebrated in a safe way and can be a greater win for everyone. If you would like more information about how to limit your risks, protect your business, and make more informed decisions, schedule a consultation with one of our business-minded attorneys today.


Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!