Workplace Holiday Events: Hold The Eggnog And Ditch The Mistletoe

by Tracy Vandover, Legal Counsel

Employer sponsored holiday events can be fraught with pitfalls. Balancing the interests of nervous employers and festive employees can be challenging.

While holiday party liability can take the shape of several different legal claims, it’s no secret that alcohol is typically at the root of most holiday party fiascos. These situations can vary from dance floor injuries to full blown sexual propositions. Harassing behavior based on other protected characteristics may also become an issue as employees and guests overconsume and lower their inhibitions. Even though alcohol increases the possibility of legal liability in many ways, employers often decide the camaraderie and goodwill is worth the risk. With thoughtful planning, you can accommodate the interests of all and avoid the bah-humbug from your employees.

Here are a few considerations to keep your holiday festivities in check:

  • Consider a central location for the venue and a designated start and end time for your event. A holiday luncheon may provide less opportunity for overconsumption.
  • If you plan to serve alcohol, make sure you hire a professional server who can monitor consumption. If any guests will be underage, notify the server.
  • Consider a ticket system that limits free drinks to a specific number for each guest.
  • Serve A LOT of food throughout the event.
  • Ensure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverage options.
  • Consider limiting an open bar to beer and wine or for a specific duration.
  • Before the event, notify guests that the company will pay for Uber or cabs to take impaired guests home if necessary.
  • Encourage guests to plan ahead and designate a driver or nearby hotel accommodation.

Surprisingly, many employees are unaware that work-party behavior is subject to the same standards as workplace behavior. If it’s inappropriate to say in your Monday morning staff meeting, then it’s inappropriate to say at the holiday party. If this expectation is not clear to your employees, it is worth the time to review your harassment and other policies, including your alcohol policy before the event. Make sure employees are aware the holiday party is an extension of the workplace and everyone is expected to act in a respectful and professional manner. Because very few employees ever want to attend a holiday party with no alcohol, including me.

Tracy Vandover is an employment counselor at Carmody MacDonald in St. Louis. Contact her at [email protected] or 314-854-8600.

This column is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be treated as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements. Read our full Legal Disclaimer.