The holiday season brings many reasons to celebrate, and some employers make merry by hosting an employee holiday party. This occasion presents an opportunity for employers to express appreciation for the hard work performed by staff all year.
Despite their laudable intentions, employers could face liability for the conduct of employees who behave inappropriately at a work festivity, according to XpertHR, an online compliance resource. A holiday party may create unintended negative consequences for employers in a variety of ways. The workplace holiday party can become a breeding ground for all kinds of regrettable and potentially unlawful behavior, from claims of religious discrimination to sexual harassment and drunk driving.
Employers should be especially careful when serving alcohol at a holiday party. Without safeguards in place, alcohol consumption can quickly transform a lively celebration into a minefield of inadvertent consequences. With lowered inhibitions, employees may make unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate gestures, or offensive remarks which can result in claims of harassment and discrimination. In addition, if an intoxicated employee drives away from the company party and injures someone, or causes property damage, an employer may be liable for negligence.
“Providing employees with the opportunity to socialize with co-workers in a relaxing environment is an excellent way to improve employee morale,” explains Beth Zoller, Legal Editor, XpertHR. “However, serving alcohol to employees is a risk and a potential liability. Therefore, employers should ensure that employees are aware of the employer’s code of conduct and policies regarding harassment and improper conduct. This is particularly true in the #MeToo era when the risk of liability is heightened.”
Be aware that if alcohol is being served, attendees may be less likely to behave appropriately. Overindulgence in alcohol may also lead to negligence claims for property damage or physical and emotional injuries, whether the employee is on or off the clock. Management should make sure that all employees are completely sober before getting behind the wheel and avoid drinking and driving while intoxicated at all costs.
“Even though the event may be held away from the employer’s premises and during what is generally considered to be nonworking hours, the employer should reiterate that the same policies are in effect and that employees should treat each other with respect and common courtesy,” says Zoller.
Religious symbols, while seemingly innocuous, may appear culturally discriminatory and offend employees. Employers should avoid overly religious decorations and music as this may lead to religious discrimination claims. Further, attendance should not be mandatory and employers should be willing excuse an employee from attending a holiday party as a religious accommodation if it violates the employee’s own religious practices.
1. Notify Employees that All Workplace Policies Remain in Effect
2. Have Supervisors Set a Good Example
3. Exercise Caution if Serving Alcohol
4. Keep Controlled Substances Under Control
5. Keep the Focus Off Religion
6. Do Not Make Attendance Mandatory
7. Plan the Menu and Entertainment For a Diverse Group
8. Be Inclusive of All Employees
9. Consider Whether to Invite Spouses or Significant Others
10. Respond to Complaints in a Timely Fashion
To download a free report on how to host a compliant holiday party, visit XpertHR.