Office Parties: Holiday Cheer or HR Fear?

CATEGORY: Blog Posts
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers
PUBLICATION: California Public Agency Labor & Employment Blog
DATE: Nov 29, 2022

‘Tis the season to deck the halls and celebrate all things holiday!  Office holiday parties can be great fun, but they are fraught with pitfalls.  Planning an office holiday party is a daunting task!  However, with a little advance planning you can ensure a safe and happy holiday season for all of your employees!

  1. Make Sure Everyone is on the Nice List

It is important to make sure that all of your employees feel welcomed at your company holiday party.  It is important to select a theme and décor that are inclusive to all of your employees.  Opt for snowflakes over Santa Claus.  Rather than focus on a particular holiday, a year end party may be a good time to celebrate your employees and their accomplishments.  Perhaps a video montage of the past year’s activities or an award ceremony recognizing your best and brightest?  Also, when planning a holiday party, make sure that the date you select does not interfere with any religious holidays that your employees may celebrate.  Celebrating in January can avoid some of these scheduling conflicts and also be very cost-effective!

Selecting an accessible venue is also key to a safe and inclusive event.  Consider your employees’ unique needs when selecting the party location to make sure everyone can attend.  Is the venue wheelchair accessible?  Will the lighting aggravate an employee’s medical condition?  If you plan team building events or party games, be sure that the activities are accessible to all.  For example, a limbo contest may not be the best option if you have any employees who are in a wheelchair.

Finally, make sure that you express that attending the party is voluntary.  Employees may have a myriad of reasons for not attending, so make sure everyone knows that attending the holiday party is not required and there will no negative repercussion if employees opt to sit this one out.

  1. Avoid Eggnog Overload

Everyone has an embarrassing story to tell about a co-worker who had a few too many glasses of egg nog at the company holiday party.  As an employer, you can take steps to ensure that all employees have fun and avoid doing the Monday morning walk of shame past the cubicles.

You can serve alcohol even if you have a drug-free and alcohol-free workplace policy, but you should consider options for ensuring the safety of all employees.  First and foremost, you want to make sure that everyone gets home safely.  You may want to offer shuttles or ride services to all employees at the party.  Alternatively, you may be able to take some steps to limit alcoholic beverages by using drink tickets or limiting the number of hours of open bar.  It is also a good idea to serve food and water with the alcoholic beverages.  One option is to have a post-meal “midnight snack” served late in the party such as sliders or sandwiches.  Second, ensure that the bartenders will cut people off after a certain number of drinks.  If you hire bartenders for the event, be sure to speak with them in advance and empower them to stop serving anyone who has had a few too many drinks.  Third, consider planning some activities such as team-building to shift the focus away from drinking.  Perhaps a trivia game or matching baby pictures to employees.  Fourth, consider holding the party at your worksite during work hours – which tends to discourage drinking.  Alternatively, start the party immediately following the work day to eliminate any pre-party imbibing.

  1. Forego the Mistletoe

While you do want your employees to let loose at the party, you also want to make sure that everyone feels respected and safe.  In advance of the party, you should remind employees of your policies on sexual harassment and dress code.  You can also invite employees’ significant others to the party which may encourage employees to be on their best behavior.  Further, any games or team activities that you plan should not involve bodily contact or disrobing.  Avoid twister or strip poker!

  1. Gifting Guidelines

Everyone loves presents!  However, if you plan to do a holiday gift exchange, remind employees that the gifts should be work appropriate.  One option is to consider a gift card exchange or a silly sock exchange to limit the chances of a NSFW gift making an appearance at your holiday party.

  1. Create a Grinch Squad

Despite all of your planning, there is still a chance that something could go wrong at the party.  It might make sense to have a designated team who agrees to remain sober and step in if the event gets out of hand.  This does not need to be comprised exclusively employees from the Human Resources department; the team should be made up of a variety of different employees from different departments.

  1. Have fun!

Last but not least, be sure to have fun!  You and your team work hard all year and deserve to celebrate!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from your friends at LCW!

View More News

Special Bulletins
California Court of Appeal Affirms Ruling that School District May Not Require COVID-19 Vaccine for Students
LCW Special Bulletin
Blog Posts
Watch Out: Navigating the Legal Risks of Employee Surveillance Software
California Public Agency Labor & Employment Blog