Planning for a Safe Office Holiday Party!!!!
Yes, its getting to be that time again… time for the liquor to flow, inhibitions to drop, innuendos to trip off your lips, and lampshades to be worn, a/k/a the dreaded office Holiday Party. This workplace tradition has come back in vogue recently. And now, with a #metoo ready to be posted by a partygoer who thinks these things aren’t cute or funny, liability is just waiting to fill your holiday stocking. Before you start dusting off your religiously neutral décor, consider the following tips to help minimize legal liability from employees and guests:
- Cups Don’t Need to Runneth Over: If you are serving alcohol, make certain to limit consumption. It might be wise to give out drink tokens or tickets (say 1 or two per guest). Also, if your party is out, don’t have wait staff circulating through the crowd with trays of drinks. Think about limiting the hours that alcohol will be available or that the bar is open. Finally, think about a cash bar. People are much less likely to overindulge if they have to pay for the privilege of being overserved. And keep the food coming to absorb all that alcohol.
- Uber, Lyft, Taxi: Make ride arrangements in advance. There is nothing worse than allowing an employee to get overserved and then letting them get behind the wheel of a car. Offer incentives to employees to be designated drivers and/or reimburse employees for ride sharing arrangements.
- No, Attendance is Not Mandatory: Let your employees know that they do not have to attend the gathering if they choose not to. This is not an office meeting. No business should be discussed. No one will be paid for time spent attending the event. And most importantly, don’t let that retaliatory spirit come out and note who did or didn’t attend when it comes to future office work. It’s a party, not a forced endurance test.
- Publish the Company’s Sexual Harassment Policy in Advance: Even if your party is off-site, an employer has a duty to prevent sexual harassment, just like in the office. Make certain ALL your employees are aware of the Company’s sexual harassment policy and remind employees that a holiday party is no excuse to violate that policy.
- Don’t be the Ostrich in the Group: If a problem arises, deal with it promptly! Every act of sexual harassment, whether by a co-worker, manager, vendor, guest or passerby MUST be dealt with immediately. Swift action designed to stop further harassment not only demonstrates the employer does not condone such behavior, but may prevent certain liability from being imputed to the employer.
- Keep Away from the Gag Gifts: If you are going to have a holiday gift exchange, make it clear that all gifts must be respectful and appropriate for the workplace. Gifts should NEVER be of a sexual or lewd nature, and keep in mind that an overly religious gift may cause issues as well.
- Decorate with Style, not with Religion in Mind: If you allow employees to decorate the work environment during the holidays, keep in mind that all religion must be treated equally. The exclusion of one religious decoration in favor of more generally accepted displays is a one way ticket to an EEOC Charge. Though it is important to be as neutral as possible, bear in mind that the EEOC and the Courts have decreed that wreaths and Christmas Trees are considered “secular symbols” in the context of the First Amendment. Therefore, employers may hang otherwise no religious wreaths around the office or have a tree in the building lobby even if an employee should object to that display.
With the right amount of work and sensitivity to the guidelines noted above, your office Holiday party will be one that is talked about for years everywhere but in a deposition!
With over 38 years’ experience in advising employers and employees on workplace issues, let Boznos Law work with you to ensure you are ready to meet the challenges posed by the changes to the employment laws. Call Bill Boznos today at (630) 375-1958 or contact us at www.boznoslawoffice.com/contact-us through our website.