All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Vaccines

With the start of the holiday season comes the inevitable question for employers: What are we going to do for the holiday party?  Perhaps the only positive note from the global pandemic of the past two years is the fact that HR departments were not faced with this question in 2020 due to stay-at-home orders and statewide COVID-19 surges.

Alas, due to dramatic improvement in transmission numbers, a holiday party may be back on the menu this year.  Accordingly, we present our annual list of holiday party reminders, with bonus content thanks to COVID-19:

1. Consider vaccination, testing, etc.

For the first time in many years, HR departments will have something new to consider when organizing a holiday party: Do employees need to be vaccinated to attend?  For employers not already subject to a vaccine mandate, this may be new territory.

In short, employers who wish party attendees to be vaccinated must (1) state this requirement far enough in advance for employees to be fully vaccinated (i.e. two weeks since the final shot), and (2) must accommodate employees who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons.  While this blog is not of sufficient length to discuss the implications of exemptions, employers may consider permitting attendees to submit a negative test result in order to gain entry or present other options.  Employers should remember that employees must be reimbursed for any costs they incur as the result of the employer’s requirements, including testing/vaccination costs, mileage to/from a testing or vaccination appointment, and (for non-exempt employees) payment for hours spent traveling to/from a testing or vaccination appointment.

2. Make it non-denominational.

To ensure an inclusive, welcoming environment and to avoid claims of religious discrimination, holiday parties should be non-denominational. Calling employer-sponsored events “Christmas” parties—the most frequent offender—may leave other employees feeling left out.

3. Make it voluntary.

To avoid claims that employees must be compensated for time spent at an employer event, employees should be advised in no uncertain terms that holiday parties are voluntary and attendance is not required.  Employers should be careful to avoid singling out employees who choose not to attend.

4. Remember workplace policies still apply.

The holiday party is perhaps the bane of every HR person’s existence—alcohol and a relaxed atmosphere often lend themselves to conduct that may violate various employer policies, including the policy prohibiting harassment. Employers should remind employees that workplace policies must be followed, and disciplinary action (up to and including termination) may result from inappropriate workplace conduct at the party.  If alcohol is served, employers should consider taking steps to limit consumption/intoxication.

5. Take steps to avoid workers’ compensation claims.

Employers are often concerned about workers’ compensation claims arising from a holiday party.  In this regard, the most important question is whether the employer expected or required employees to participate.  Again, it is important to communicate that attendance is voluntary.  If awards or bonuses are given at the event, these should be presented in a timely manner to employees who did not attend the event. Finally, employers are encouraged to hold events offsite and outside of working time to avoid a claim that the event was covered.

Questions about how to proceed this year (or any year)?  Reach out to your usual employment counsel or the authors of this post.

This AALRR webinar is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR presentation does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

© 2021 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo

Tags: Vaccines

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