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Keeping your Employees off the Naughty List (A primer for Holiday Office Parties)

December 13, 2023 Articles Labor & Employment Labor & Employment Blog

Although the wild and crazy office party should be a vestige of the past, many employers learn the hard way that employees view the office party as a way to cut loose and leave their inhibitions on the copy room floor. Such behavior was the main focus for laughs in the 2016 movie Office Christmas Party (an over-the-top example of what employers do not want to happen).

Office holiday parties often embolden inappropriate behavior, from simple innuendoes to unwelcome touching, that could lead to claims of sexual harassment. The office holiday party can be a quagmire of potential employment issues, even beyond sexual harassment. These issues can include claims due to on-the-job injuries (worker’s compensation), unpaid wages for attending the party (the Fair Labor Standards Act), or other types of workplace harassment or discrimination (e.g., religion).

As you prepare for your office party, consider whether alcohol should be available, as most issues arise due to someone bending the elbow a bit too much. If you do decide to provide spirits, make sure you have someone (a designated responsible adult) who is watching to ensure that your workforce does not get too “relaxed” and cross the line. Possibly limit how much alcohol is served, and make sure any employee who drinks a little too much has a ride home. Evaluate in advance whether the party is going to be mandatory or not. If it’s voluntary and employees do not feel compelled to attend, then employers are not required to compensate employees for their attendance. Review the plans for the party in advance to see if there are any activities that could be considered inappropriate or offensive to members of any protected class. Finally, make sure employees understand that the company’s policies and procedures, especially those related to conduct, are still in effect at the party. Most parties are benign and conclude with no real issues to speak of, but you don’t want to be the exception to the rule. You do not want to wake up the next day and find that your organization’s CEO or VP have been added to the naughty list.