With Halloween upon us, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Kiwanzaa and other winter holidays are quickly approaching. As employers plan their holiday parties, there are a number of steps employers should consider taking to make sure the parties remain happy, and not morph into a disaster. Consider the following:

  1. Make it a Holiday Party, not a Christmas, Hanukah, or other religiously related party. Claims of religious discrimination could arise if the party is seen as a religious function, and not an employer function.
  2. If you include spouses, it would be wise to also include a “date”, “significant other” or “partner”. Although claims arising out of same sex relationships may be difficult to successfully pursue in Alabama, why take the risk?
  3. The inclusion of spouses, dates, significant others and/or partners often discourages improper and inappropriate behavior by those in attendance.
  4. The party should be voluntary. Making it mandatory could lead to claims for overtime compensation by non-exempt employees if they work over 40 hours that week. There are also workers' compensation issues: if an employee is injured at a mandatory holiday party, it will most likely be a covered injury.
  5. Lead by example: owners, officers, managers and supervisors should act professionally and properly. They need to be reminded that the policies addressing issues such as sexual harassment, discrimination, dress code and inappropriate behavior still apply, even if the party is held after hours and/or off-site.
  6. Employees should be reminded that the company's policies still apply at the party: harassment, discrimination, dress code, inappropriate behavior, etc. will be grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
  7. If alcohol is served, at least one supervisory/management level employee should be designated to monitor the consumption of alcohol (as well as inappropriate behavior) and be prepared to cut off any attendee if he/she has had too much to drink. Think about giving out drink tickets to limit the amount of alcohol consumed. Consider discontinuing alcohol service at least one hour before the end of the party. Also consider providing transportation after the party for those who consume alcohol: taxis, uber, etc.
  8. If there is a complaint about any conduct at the party, an investigation should be conducted as soon as possible, and appropriate action taken based on the outcome of the investigation.
  9. Use a licensed/insured (including Dram Shop Insurance) caterer/facility: if someone does drink too much, and gets into an accident on the way home, the caterers' insurance company should be responsible for any claims.

Enjoy and have fun!!!!