Holiday Parties: Employee Festivities or Employer Liabilities?

Written by on December 9, 2019 in Employment Law Blog, Employment Law Issues


It’s that time of year again! The holidays are upon us and for many companies, that means festive lunches and yes, the office holiday party. And while these parties can be a great way for employers to show their appreciation for a year of hard work and for employees to kick back and have a little fun, they can come with some potentially serious liabilities.

So, by all means, go ahead and have your company holiday party, but take care in the planning and the execution to avoid having HR or legal issues as you move into the New Year.

Set Expectations

Even though this is a time of celebration, office expectations of professionalism and anti-harassment policies need to remain in place. Loss of professionalism doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an employee who is dancing on the table. It could be a flirtatious remark made to a co-worker or an inappropriate social media post that sets the stage for problems later on.

Sending a gentle reminder concerning company policies and code of conduct prior to the party is a good way to help prevent unprofessional or injurious behaviour.

During the party, management should set the example. Keep your conversations light and cheerful and avoid sensitive topics such as work performance, and salaries. By adopting a professional attitude during the event, management can help encourage all employees to do the same.

Responsible Holiday Cheer

Decide early on whether or not you are going to have alcohol at your holiday party. If you do have drinks, take measures to limit the amount of alcohol being served and ensure your employees’ safety. This can be done by having a cash bar or issuing employees a limited number of drink tickets. You may also decide to close the bar well before the party has ended. Ensuring that a number of non-alcoholic choices are available is a good practice at any gathering.

Safe transportation is also key to the party’s success. Arrange to have some designated drivers in the group or being willing to call a cab for an employee who has partied too hard. Or – if it’s in the budget – arrange for transportation for everyone via taxi vouchers or a van or bus rental.

Keep it Inclusive

You may have noticed that so far in this article we have avoided using words like “Christmas” or “Hanukkah”. No matter what holiday you celebrate personally, it’s important to remember that we are an increasingly multicultural society and, in the workplace especially, we must be inclusive and sensitive to everyone. Put simply, not everyone is going to feel comfortable going to a “Christmas” or “Hanukah” party. So by simply calling it a “holiday party” you can help ensure that employees of all faiths and backgrounds will feel welcome and included.

Planned the right way, company holiday parties can be a great chance for everyone to unwind – just make sure that the employee festivities don’t turn into employer liabilities.

For more information on how to avoid potential liabilities, contact Minken Employment Lawyers today.

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues. Whether you are an employer or an employee, we can help. Contact us to see how.

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