The office holiday party is just one way employers can show their appreciation for employees’ hard work throughout the year. Hosting such an annual get-together gives back to those that have contributed to the company’s success, boosts morale, and creates a light-hearted camaraderie.
But they can also present liability issues. In planning an office holiday party, employers should take precautions in the following five areas:
- Drinking: Providing alcohol at a company-sponsored event can increase the risk of inappropriate or reckless behavior. If a drunk employee sexually harasses a coworker — or gets behind the wheel and injures another driver — the employer could be held liable. Employers can limit this risk by prohibiting alcohol at the party or taking other steps like enforcing a drink limit and serving food.
- Attendance: If the office holiday party takes place during normal working hours and attendance is mandatory, then the employer must pay their employees for their time at the party. This applies even if attendance is not explicitly required, but employees are led to believe that nonattendance would adversely impact their continued employment or working conditions.
- Conduct: Many employees mistakenly believe that when they’re off the clock, expectations of professional behavior no longer apply. It’s worthwhile for employers to remind their employees that company codes of conduct apply to all work-sponsored events.
- Venue: Choosing the wrong location for an office party also creates liability risks. If the venue does not have accessible entrances for employees with disabilities, for example, it could put the employer in danger of a disability discrimination lawsuit. If the party takes place in a church or religious center, employees unaffiliated with that religion could sue for religious discrimination.
- Theme: Hosting a secular holiday party can help employers avoid violating Title VII religious protections. Having a Christmas-themed holiday party, for example, could isolate non-Christian employees. In addition, employees cannot be required to attend a religious-themed event that conflicts with their own beliefs.
It’s an employer’s job to make sure the office holiday party isn’t just fun and festive, but also safe and inclusive. Following the above guidelines can help keep such an event in the spirit of the season.