Holiday Etiquette, HR Style

by Whitney Sedwick Meister

HolidayParty’Tis the season … when merriment sometimes gets the better of good HR sense. Here are a few tips to help companies stay out of hot water at the annual holiday party.

Invite the “better halves.” Holiday parties are synonymous with alcohol, and while there are many ways a company can reduce its risk, a non-traditional (yet highly effective) option is to invite employees’ spouses and significant others to the party. They aren’t called “better halves” for nothing — they will frequently be forces for moderation, limiting the risk of overly intoxicated employees. A “Plus One” is an additional perk for the team, too!

Avoid liability for workman’s comp. Even if the holiday party is held “after hours,” if it is a mandatory event or attendance is strongly recommended, the company is legally responsible for any employee’s negligence that occurs at the party. Any injuries to an employee or an employee’s guest will be compensable under the company’s workers’ compensation policy. Be sure employees know the party is truly voluntary.

Watch out for overtime pay. Companies that make the holiday party mandatory must be prepared to pay employees for their time — and, if they exceed a 40-hour work week, they must be paid overtime for those extra hours. If the event is truly voluntary, only those employees who perform work at the party (e.g., handing out name tags, performing set-up/clean-up duties) need to be paid.

Whitney Sedwick Meister is an attorney with Fennemore Craig practicing in the areas of employment and labor law, civil appeals, and commercial litigation. 

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