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Ho Ho Oh No’s: Holiday Party Concerns for Employers and Employees

December 19th, 2017 by David Minces

The holidays have a magical way of bringing people together, and the workplace is no exception. Many companies organize holiday celebrations where rules are relaxed and coworkers can fraternize with peers, bosses, subordinates and sometimes customers. These festivities are the subject of movies like Office Christmas Party (2016) and episodes from TV shows like The Office. While most holiday parties are not as dramatic as the ones we see on television, when they are, the drama rarely wraps up with a Hollywood happy ending. During office festivities, even if rules are not as strictly enforced, they cannot be outright ignored. In fact, some rules might need to be given increased thought due to the nature of parties. To ensure that office celebrations maintain the spirit of the season, employers and employees must work together.

What should employees do?

Employers can and do fire employees for bad decisions during holiday parties. Just because you are off the clock and/or not in your workplace does not mean you are relieved from rules and professionality. Even if employers do not take immediate action to discipline poor behavior during office parties, they can still cause employees to be passed over for promotions and raises. To avoid all this, employees should remember to follow proper etiquette, show coworkers and especially supervisors respect, and not do anything that would reflect negatively on the company. Specific examples that often harm employees include getting drunk, making rude comments to superiors, posting photos that do not show the company or its workers in a good light, or bringing a date that does any of the aforementioned.

What can employers and managers do?

While you, as an employer, are able to give breaks to your employees during holiday parties, the law will not give you a break no matter the season. This means that an offhand remark or action can quickly spiral into a harassment or discrimination lawsuit. Additionally, as the host of the party, you may have extra responsibilities over your employees. For example, in some states, if an employee gets into a car accident while driving drunk leaving your party, liability for the damages can be imputed to you as the host. To stay on the right side of the law and good taste, take measures to make sure that the party is as safe and inclusive as possible. This means using drink tickets and serving non-alcoholic drinks and food to prevent intoxication, accommodating for restricted diets, and having diverse themes for the holiday party. Employees might also try to seek pay or overtime for attending a holiday party. To prevent this, make clear and put in writing that attendance is not mandatory and business will not be done during the party. Do not assign or pay those who take work assignments for the party, and, if possible, hold the party after work hours and offsite.

While these rules may seem to infringe upon the festive nature of the holidays, they exist to foster a safe, inclusive, and successful work environment. Whether you are an employer or an employee, use common sense and be sure to act appropriately because you will be socializing with people you need to uphold a professional relationships with. After all, the business still operates on the remaining that are not Christmas, Hanukkah, or whichever day you are celebrating. If you are an employer with questions about employee conduct at a holiday party or in your day-to-day operations, or an employee who needs guidance through a less than jolly situation, we can help.

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