Throwing an office holiday party is a great way for an employer to express their gratitude to their employees and for everyone to have a little fun after a year of hard work. Let's be honest, most spend more time with their co-workers and bosses than with their own family, so to give your employees an opportunity to celebrate with their family away from their real family can be a great idea. However, office holiday parties can be a breeding ground for liability. Be a wise employer this holiday season by reducing risk by taking simple steps to avoid potential liability.
- Start with the correct title. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination and requires employers to accommodate employees' religious beliefs. Giving a generic title to the party, like “holiday”, versus naming any other religion, specifically, ensures that no employee will feel excluded from the office festivities.
- Limit the Alcohol. There is no need to do away with alcohol entirely. Doing that would get you a scarlet letter (that's “S” for Scrooge). Limiting consumption may be a good middle ground. Some employers limit the duration of an open bar, while others limit the amount of drinks (e.g. giving out drink tickets) or prohibit liquor shots. If you are serving alcohol at the office holiday party, advertise free transportation alternatives before the party. Some providers, such as Uber, may be able to provide discounts for special events scheduled in advance.
- Serve Food. Reason? See No. 2. If there are drinks being served, there must be substantive food. Otherwise, it may be a recipe for disaster.
- Have a Social Media Policy. It is not suggested to ban employees from posting on social media. You don't want to be a Scrooge who also violates the First Amendment. However, the Huffington Post suggests, “encourage employees to share office party memories on their social media profiles, but only if the posts reflect your company's integrity and brand”.
- Pay to Play. Pursuant to wage & hour laws if you require employees to attend an office holiday party, you must pay them for the time they spend there. If you do not intend to pay employees, then inform employees that their attendance is optional in the invitation.
- Invite Spouses: According to HR experts, it is a good idea to have both families (e.g. the work family and the real family) at the office holiday party, because it will help everyone be on their best behavior.
For additional tips to keep your office holiday party free of potential liability, check out the below articles: