Holiday Party Hazards: Six Tips for Avoiding Legal Hangovers
With winter upon us, ’tis the season for holiday office parties and year-end celebrations.
A few missteps, however, and an employer may be facing a lawsuit, says Beth Zoller, legal editor at XpertHR.
In order to minimize the potential for liability, an employer should consider these six ways to avoid legal hangovers.
Keep the Focus off Religion
Your holiday party should not be religious in nature and not specifically dedicated to Christmas to avoid claims of religious discrimination and harassment. This means that an employer should consider steering clear of Christmas music and decorations and instead, focus on celebrating the winter season and the coming New Year.
Avoid Making Attendance Mandatory
Attendance should not be mandatory for the holiday party, since this could create wage and hour issues for nonexempt employees. If attendance is mandatory, it may be considered working time and hourly employees may be entitled to overtime. The party should be outside of working hours.
Be Careful If Serving Alcohol
An employer should be very cautious about serving alcohol, because this can lead to myriad issues, including injuries, discrimination, harassment, and inappropriate or offensive conduct. If you choose to serve alcohol, designate someone to monitor employees’ alcohol intake. If an intoxicated employee leaves the event and injures a third party or damages a third party’s property, the employer may be liable for negligence.
Enforce Discrimination, Harassment and Employee Conduct Policies
Even though the event may be held off site and during nonworking hours, the employer should still reiterate that its policies regarding discrimination, harassment, employee dating, employee conduct, and its dress code remain in effect.
Make Sure Supervisors Set a Good Example
Management employees should be trained to identify instances of inappropriate conduct and to immediately report them to the employer or HR.
Respond to Complaints in a Timely Manner
An employer should act quickly if it receives a discrimination or harassment complaint, or learns of any other inappropriate conduct from an employee or supervisor, carefully documenting the complaint and initiating an investigation.
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