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Tis the season, but watch out for the Grinch at holiday parties


December 4, 2019

Many organizations are planning holiday parties — onsite and offsite — to thank employees for their hard work, celebrate the season and build employee morale. Not to be a Scrooge, but there are key issues to be aware of to avoid potential litigation and employee relation issues.
Set the date and time early

The holiday season has competing activities between school events, concerts, religious pageants and rehearsals, sporting events and other social activities. Send out announcements early to assist employees in making plans, including spouse or significant others’ schedules, babysitters, etc. Be clear on start and end times, especially if any formal presentations or gift exchanges occur. Stick to the start and end times.
Build community giving as part of the festivities

Consider a charity giving tree or donation box as part of the seasonal event. For example, a mitten and winter coat donation drive or a team activity at a local charity activity as part of the seasonal events.
Appropriate dress

This might sound weird or even juvenile, but employees should be informed of appropriate attire. Clothing that is too casual or too formal may make the employee feel uncomfortable. Also, clothing that is too short, tight, revealing or transparent may lead to issues later in the evening or after. It’s a social event, but not a dance club.
Alcohol and other drugs

Be clear on your alcohol and drug policy. Most organizations have a policy regarding alcohol and drug use on premises or at social events. Remind employees of the policy. Hire an external bartender to manage consumption and provide drink tickets. Close the bar at a reasonable time even if employees must purchase drinks. Provide taxi or ride-sharing services to any guest at no charge with no questions asked should someone chose to use it.

More harassment incidents happen at holiday parties than any other time of year. As alcohol or drugs are consumed, employee judgment may be diminished, and poor choices may occur. Conduct regular training on harassment and respectful workplace conduct. Address any issues observed at the holiday function quickly to avoid further issues. Even though it might be after hours and off work property, it can still be harassment.
Wage payments

Be clear that the event after hours is voluntary, and employees will not be paid. If held during work hours, employees will expect to be paid. Overtime payments may be incurred, especially with a planning or decorating committee working after hours.
Be inclusive and respectful of multiple religions and customs

Provide a multicultural planning committee to address dates, times, food items and different celebrations to include Hanukah, Kwanza and other religious events to be more inclusive. Some organizations sponsor cultural awareness, including presentations and food to celebrate different traditions. Try to avoid religious symbols or specific mention of a specific religion unless the celebration is sponsored by a religious organization.
Time off for religious observation

Employees who are not Christians may challenge taking Christmas Eve or Christmas Day off and offer to work on those days or request an alternative day off. Be sensitive to the request, but also consider if the office or location is closed or open. Be open to religious accommodation suggestions.
With these thoughts in mind, you can fill confident as you plan through your office holiday party. Have a joyous season.
Larry Morgan runs the MNCPA HR Hotline and is president of Orion HR Group, LLC. He is a regular contributor to Footnote. You may reach him at