Risk-Managed Holiday Parties: A Checklist For Employers

It’s that time of year again! Holiday parties can be a wonderful way to celebrate, build relationships and morale, and relax a bit in the midst of a hectic season. They can also be a hotbed for HR complaints and incidents. We don’t want to spoil the fun! But we do want to help you limit your liability and keep your staff safe.

‘Tis the Season for Risk Mitigation!

Holiday parties are great… the aftermath is not. There is often an uptick in workplace investigations related to holiday parties; from claims of discrimination to sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct. To prioritize staff safety and reduce risk, employers should consider taking the following steps:

  • Never Make ‘Fun’ Mandatory.
  • Prioritize inclusivity and do not make the party mandatory. Not everyone celebrates at this time of year. You can avoid potential claims by ensuring that party attendance is not required, either explicitly or implicitly. It may also reduce your liability as an employer if it is seen as an “outside of work” event.

  • Put a “Closed” Sign on the Open Bar.
  • If you are serving alcohol at your party or event, instead of a free-for-all open bar, consider using drink tickets and provide a limited number to each employee. Also make sure serving staff are properly trained and certified such as ensuring servers have their Smart Serve certifications.

  • Remind People Not to Drive while Intoxicated.
  • Make a general announcement about this issue and offer taxi rides and/or provide designated drivers/safe rides home.

  • Keep it Short and Sweet.
  • Plan a short party that ends early. This will likely curtail employees overindulging.

  • Feed Them!
  • Food is important as a way to connect with each other — and to offset the risks of drinking on an empty stomach.

  • Take Care of Each Other.
  • If someone is intoxicated, make sure they are safe at the party and that they leave in a taxi or with a sober friend/coworker.

  • Bring Attention to Company Policies.
  • Before the party, draw attention to relevant company polices such as your harassment, discrimination, drug/alcohol use, and social media policies. While your employees are on holidays your policies are not!

  • Keep Things Fun and Professional… It’s Possible!
  • Lead by example. You can enjoy yourself and remain professional. If there is any inappropriate conduct, address it immediately and if warranted, remove the offending person from the party.

Who’s ready to party… safely and responsibly!? When you follow these tips, a good time can be had by all (and you won’t have to deal with an avalanche of complaints in the New Year).

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About Maxwell Bauer

Max advises on all aspects of the employment relationship, including advising and representing both employees and employers on human rights matters, resolving workplace conflicts, advising on and negotiating severance packages and representing employers and employees in litigation.

In particular, Max has a dedicated interest in the financial services industry as well as human rights matters.

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