Deck the Halls – But Do It Nicely, and Don’t Be Naughty!

by Cole Schotz
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Thinking about tying one on this year to get into the holiday spirit, or about finally asking out that cute girl or guy from the office at the holiday party after the spirit moves you?  Think again!  With the holiday season upon us, employers and employees would be well-served to review their Employee Manuals’ harassment, discrimination and social media policies to avoid the embarrassment, and pricey lawsuits that pop up at this time of year following otherwise festive celebrations.

Remember, just because an event takes place off premises, or in the office after hours, does not mean that the employment relationship and policies that attach do not follow everyone to the party.  Employers are urged to be proactive to avoid claims of harassment and discrimination, reminding managers and employees to be on their best behavior.  The old adage, “If you would not say it to your mother, don’t say it,” is still a fair yardstick to apply to nearly anything employees and managers might say to one another, in the office or at the holiday party.  Remind all to be courteous and mindful of the company’s policies, including social media policies, at all times.  Videos or pictures of drunken or inappropriate behavior from the holiday party posted on social media can only lead to trouble and discomfiture.

The chief source of mischief at any holiday party – free flowing libations – should be monitored closely to ensure the party does not devolve into a bacchanal.  Company sponsored events place ultimate responsibility for employee behavior on the company.

Hiring an outside vendor to tend bar – with its own liability insurance and procedure to monitor guests’ alcohol intake – is an excellent suggestion.  Avoid at all costs the serve it yourself bar, or employees pouring drinks for each other – both recipes for excess.  If the party takes place at an outside venue, consider providing drink vouchers for a maximum of number of drinks to employees, closing the bar an hour before the party ends and providing coffee and dessert to stay or to go.  Offering taxis, buses or designated drivers to get people home safely are also excellent recommendations.

Importantly, do not discriminate.  Make the party secular, nondenominational and welcoming to all, but not mandatory.

Holiday celebrations can be great opportunities for employees and employers to connect on a social level, talk about things other than work and boost morale.  Don’t let the opportunity slip away.  Happy Holidays!

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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