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Holiday Parties: The Legal Side

Company holiday parties are a customary and traditional way for employers to show appreciation to their hard-working, loyal employees. It's also a great way to boost company morale and create a better work environment. However, there are instances where the best of intentions can backfire and create big complications! As fun as company holiday parties may be for everyone, it can be a breeding ground for legal issues. Unfortunately, it can even lead to some of those loyal employees losing their jobs. There are many potential party pitfalls to consider. In this blog, we'll cover the more common minor mishaps as well as major ones.

Let's start with wages. Do you have to pay employees for attendance at the holiday party? Is attendance mandatory? Will there be work performed during the event? How a holiday party invitation is worded can determine whether or not employees must be paid for the event. You could reflect that the event is voluntary or purely social to avoid extra pay, or you could hold the event during a work day or work hours, to avoid paying overtime. Carefully wording your invitations is key.

Discrimination dangers are written all over a holiday party. Consider every attendees' background and culture. Avoid putting an emphasis on one holiday or religion. Consider removing overtly religious symbols and items of different faiths. You could also go the opposite route and include every religion or culture's holiday.

Alcohol is one of the key contributors to holiday office party mishaps. As people lose their inhibitions, they tend to lose their office manners as well. Unfortunately, when that happens, their actions may lead to legal complications for them and your company. Carefully evaluate food and beverage in advance. It's never a good idea to have an open bar. Implement a cash bar or ticket system to limit the amount of alcohol consumption in the room. Make sure there are other beverages available. It's always a good idea to close the bar an hour or more before the event ends. You may also want to consider a no-cost taxi / rideshare service in case any employee feels he/she or someone else should not drive due to impairment.

Over-consumption of alcohol may lead to fights, sexual harassment, driving impaired, etc. It may not sound fun, but you may want to instruct managers that they are to be "on duty" and keep an eye on their subordinates. It may also help to invite spouses and significant others so that there will be others to help keep an eye on people. While you'll definitely want to encourage everyone to have a good time, you can also remind them that workplace standards will be required during party hours as well.

If you have any doubts about your holiday party or are concerned you have a possible legal issue because of a party, you should definitely consult with a business lawyer. On a final note, never hang mistletoe.

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