Festivus Time Of The Year

As the end of the year descends upon us, it is time for workplaces to have their December gatherings, and like everything else in the employment setting these days, employers must be on their guard to not create situations that could lead to potential legal liabilities.  The following is a quick reminder of considerations for holiday parties.

First of all, what do you call your festivities?  It seems nonreligious connotations are the safest, so referring to your event as a holiday party would seem more innocuous than the old fashioned Christmas party or even the new-fangled winter solstice bacchanal.

Second, do not make holiday parties mandatory.  If the party is mandatory, employees may have to be compensated for their time as the event is a condition of employment.  Moreover, if a religious belief may prevent holiday party attendance, such a condition of employment might trigger discrimination issues and reasonable accommodation issues that can unnecessarily complicate a situation that can be easily avoided by making attendance voluntary.

Third, limit or prohibit alcohol consumption.  Drink coupons to limit alcohol consumption on the surface seem like a good idea, but if someone wants to get extra tickets to become intoxicated, it is usually not too difficult.  Thus, more practical restraints are using professional bartenders who will know when to cut someone off, having parties in office conference rooms rather than in bars or hotels, and having parties in the afternoon as opposed to the evening or a weekend.  Further cease serving alcohol at least an hour before the event ends will more efficiently control alcohol consumption.

Fourth, provide rides home to prevent people driving while intoxicated.  Whether you provide taxis, Ubers or overnight accommodations, it is important to make sure no one drives home while they are intoxicated.

Fifth, harassment laws are still in effect during workplace holiday events.  Inappropriate outfits, provocative dancing, and unsuitable language should not be tolerated at the holiday soiree.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Thus, to avoid sending people home for inappropriate conduct it would behoove employers to send a gentle reminder to employees prior to the event that they are expected to abide by all applicable workplace policies on harassment, dress code, and conduct.  Holding events during workday afternoon will help address some of these issues as well.

In conclusion, this truly can be the most wonderful time of the year.  Employers needing to reward the workforce with a holiday shindig should be encouraged for morale building as well as intra-company networking benefits.  With a little thought and care, the positives should far outweigh any potential negatives.  With a little planning and foresight, employers and employees can both have a happy holiday and a safe and festive party.

This AALRR blog 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/publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

© 2019 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo


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