It’s that time of year again. I, for one, am ready to bring on the holiday cheer, decorate for the holidays and listen to non-stop holiday music until my ears bleed. Why? Because it also means that I’ll soon be watching my favorite Christmas movie, “Love Actually” (yes, it’s considered a Christmas movie) and wrapping presents for my crazy darling little ones by the glow of my beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

And, as I think of “Love Actually”, I’m reminded of those cringe-worthy moments between Mia and Harry as they plan and attend their office holiday party. Don’t get me wrong, a holiday party is a wonderful way to acknowledge your staff, boost office morale and bring seasonal cheer. Since employers may be subject to the same liability for the acts of their supervisors and employees during the holiday party as during working hours, allow me to provide you with some advice on avoiding a legal hangover.

“Right, the Christmas party. Not my favorite night of the year, and your unhappy job to organize.”

During the planning stage for the holiday party, employers should review the employment handbook, and if necessary, revise it to include acceptable standards of behavior at work-related social events. The policy should also expressly state that employees are subject to the same anti-harassment policy at company sponsored events and that they will be subject to discipline if the policy is violated during the holiday party.

Before the party, brief employees on party policies and appropriate conduct. Educate supervisors on the proper handling of violations of the policies and being consistent when issuing discipline on violators of policies.

Do not require employees to attend the holiday party. Employees who do not celebrate the holidays may choose to and should be able to opt out of the festivities.

“I’ll just be hanging around the mistletoe, hoping to be kissed.”

Need I say it? Don’t decorate with mistletoe.

Brand it a holiday party, not a Christmas party. Also, keep decorations secular. Some employees do not have a religious affiliation, so it’s best to keep religion out of the party. An employer who chooses to include religious decorations, should be all inclusive to include employees of all faiths.

“It’s an art gallery, full of dark corners, for doing… dark deeds.”

Consider inviting employees and their significant others to the event to keep inappropriate conduct at bay. Make sure the invitation is for “employee and guest,” not “employee and spouse” to avoid treating unmarried employees differently.

Make sure to secure an accessible venue that is available for all employees to attend and enjoy the event.

“Well, it’s basic, really. Find a venue, over-order on the drinks, bulk-buy the guacamole and advise the girls to avoid Kevin . . .”

Alcohol is a contributing factor to a vast majority of holiday party lawsuit hangovers. Consider hiring a professional bartender; allowing employees to serve themselves may encourage excessive drinking. Mandate that the professional bartender check IDs to prevent underage drinking. Give the bartender the authority to determine when someone has had too much to drink.

Limit choices to beer and wine; do not serve hard alcohol. Provide employees with a certain number of drink tickets to limit consumption. Serve a meal or make plenty of food available, so attendees are not drinking on an empty stomach. Remind employees to drink responsibly.

Bottom Line

Following this practical advice can help ensure that your party remains issue free. If you’ve already had your office party and need any advice regarding mistletoe related issues, contact counsel right away to mitigate those issues. I’m off to my holiday party now.

With the New Year, I’m looking forward to discussing with you all the new laws taking effect that will impact the workplace.