December 11, 2013

Holiday Parties and the Workplace

Nothing makes an HR director bristle like the words “holiday party.” Google “Holiday Party Liability Prevention Checklist” and you'll see a list that goes on forever! Holiday parties don’t have to result in lawsuits, social media scandals, or cost a lot of money.

How to have fun and stay out of trouble

It all comes down to self-respect. Management is on stage all the time. Being in control is being a leader. We’ve all heard the horror stories. The CEO with the lampshade dancing can go viral in seconds. Lawyers have a field day with that kind of thing. For several years, our company hosted a client thank you and community give back holiday party with over 300 people attending. As host, I never drank during our parties. I felt an obligation to be 100 percent on top of my game. I am proud to say that we never had an employee that was tipsy (can’t say that for some of our guests!). Things start at the top.

Today, we have a staff holiday luncheon, mostly out of respect for people’s time. A Friday or Saturday night party tends to make people feel obligated to “show up” after spending money on new clothes, etc. Our celebration focuses on fun, activities, and food. Our dollar store decorations include fake antler headbands that people wear while telling their favorite holiday story. During our potlucks we share recipes, never discuss business and we don’t serve alcohol.

Communicate clear expectations to everyone 

Consider the big picture – company culture, expense, and liability. Tight budget? Establish that spouses/significant others are not welcome (and leave those darling kids at home with a sitter!). Other ideas include issuing drink coupons or setting bottles of wine on the table with no restocking. If staff attendance is mandatory, remind them that you will pay them until the “official” end of the party. 

Simple reminders

At intervals, send out reminders about the key points, from who-what-where-why-when to dress code.

Potential legal liabilities

If you offer alcoholic beverages, you’re on the hook regardless of where the party is held, even if you pay someone else to serve. Repeat after me…

If you are hosting a party with liquor, hire and pay for taxis for everyone.

If you are hosting a party with liquor, hire and pay for taxis for everyone.

If you are hosting a party with liquor, hire and pay for taxis for everyone.

There’s a time and place for everything. Don’t let your holiday party be the time and place for a tragedy – legal or lethal.

Written by Jim Annis President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

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