Employees doing coke outside the office Christmas party. Janitors gifting people bottles of acid. Removing your bra in front of co-workers while hypnotized. Watching your boss have sex. Accidentally choking a co-worker unconscious. These are just some of the mishaps that have befallen the company Christmas party. What can employers do to minimize the legal risks?
Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, employers should make it clear that attendance is not required or even expected. If the party is scheduled after business hours, some people may be unable to attend due to family responsibilities. In general, employees should not feel that not attending the party affects their career.
Because so many employees feel obligated to attend the office holiday party, employers should ask ahead and accommodate any special dietary requirements, especially any based in religious belief. Providing for diets such as the paleo or keto diet is more discretionary. Providing food for employees is especially important though if alcohol will also be served.
Everyone expects free booze at the office Christmas party, but how much is too much? Employers should consider restricting the amount of alcohol available and cut off those who are drinking too much. Also consider how employees will get home after the party. Employers may want to give advice about not drinking and driving since an employer may be held vicariously liable for employees driving home from an office party. Employers may even want to offer services like taxis or ride-sharing services. Since alcohol also leads to loose lips, managers should avoid conversations about performance, promotion, salary or career prospects.
Photos and Social Media.
Neither the employer or your co-workers want embarrassing photos from the office Christmas party to end up on the Internet. Such photos could also infringe the privacy rights of other employees. Employers should advise staff of its social media policy and the consequences of any violation.
Many companies allow for Secret Santa-type gift exchanges during the holidays. Employees should be advised that gifts should be inoffensive. Gifts that might be funny to onlookers but not to the recipient include lingerie or x-rated toys. Some interesting yet safe gifts we’ve come across include food items such as an unopened bag of gourmet coffee, a sampler of protein/keto bars, and even a make your own hotsauce kit (more gift ideas).
Employers can be held liable for harassment and other conduct at the office Christmas party. They should circulate clear written policies to all employees about acceptable standards of behavior at office social events, equal opportunities and harassment, as well as the sanctions that could result. The rules should prohibit fighting, excessive alcohol consumption, the use of illegal drugs, inappropriate behavior, sexist or racist remarks and offensive comments about sexual orientation, disability, age or religion.
Health & Safety.
Many office parties are held outside of the office where employers do not have as much control over the environment. Companies should carry out a health & safety check to identify any safety hazards, such as fire hazards.
Do you attend your company’s holiday party? What’s the worst you’ve seen?