The holiday season is in full swing and the invitations to your corporate holiday party have been sent. The “who, what, where, and when” may have been decided, but there is certainly more to having a successful holiday party (or any company party for that matter) than good food and entertainment. If an ordinary day at the office brings risk and potential liability for employers, a festive gathering that may include alcohol and non-employee guests can be downright dangerous. Below are our tips to help keep your holiday party a happy (i.e. safe, discrimination- and harassment- free) event that all of your guests will remember fondly:

  1. Be inclusive. While many of your employees may be Christians, don’t make your end-of-the-year-party exclusively about Christmas. Do your best to be inclusive of all of your employees’ beliefs and cultures and take this time to celebrate the end of a successful year and the hard work that contributed to it. Same goes for including guests; don’t limit your invitation to “wife”, for example, and consider whether using “significant other” may be more appropriate to account for same-sex relationships. Finally, consider whether you should expand your guest list to include interns, contractors, and others who work hard to make your business possible.
  2. Provide a safe space. Many holiday parties include significant others as guests who may not be familiar with your conference room or front steps. Take time before the party to ensure that front walkways are clear of ice, that the stair railings are secure, that bushes and shrubs are cut back, and that there is ample lighting both indoors and out. Doing so can help to limit liability should someone have an accident during the event. Also, take steps to keep guests and employees in the main event space – lock off areas if possible and do not let people meander through the building (unless on a guided tour perhaps) or into private offices or areas.
  3. Restrict alcohol use. Depending on the day and time of your holiday gathering, alcohol may or may not be expected. Use your best judgment to determine whether it should be offered at all and, if you do decide to serve something punchy, take steps to help your employees make responsible (and safe) choices. Like: hire a bartender who is obligated to stop serving guests at a certain point, give out drink tickets to limit the number of drinks guests can consume, stick to a reasonable ending time for the party, and/or provide access to safe transportation home afterwards.
  4. Make the party voluntary. It seems obvious that a guest who doesn’t want to be at your party is not going to be a fun guest, but even more problematic than a Grinch is that requiring employees to attend an event could open the business up to Fair Labor Standard Act and other wage and hour issues. Making the party voluntary (and work-free) removes it from compensable time.
  5. Prohibit inappropriate behavior. Remind employees that they (and their guests) continue to be required to behave professionally at the gathering. Your workplace policies and procedures regarding harassment and discrimination remain intact and must be followed. Charge managers with setting a good example and with the authority to ask employees or guests who are not conducting themselves appropriately to leave if necessary. Controlling alcohol consumption and the safety of the physical space can also help to curb wayward behavior.
  6. Enjoy! Last, but not least, have fun! Celebrate the people and hard work that make your company a great place to work and help excite your workforce for the new year ahead!