The Holiday Party: Potential Employer Hazard

by Lori A. Higuera

Holiday-PartyTo avoid the pitfalls that can be created at the company holiday party, businesses need to carefully plan out each detail, including the following:

Dress Up Company Policies Before the Big Event. Companies should review their personnel policies to ensure they are up to date, and remind employees that they are expected to conduct themselves at the party in a manner that complies with these policies. 

Pick the Right Theme. Companies should characterize the event as a “Holiday Party” or “End of the Year Celebration” to avoid claims of discrimination.

When Facebook and Instagram Crash the Party. Companies, seeking to avoid bad press, may instruct employees not to post photos from the company holiday party on their personal social media accounts. While companies can certainly take measures to prevent the dissemination of legitimately confidential company information, they should consult with counsel before prohibiting social media activity that could be protected under federal labor laws.

Avoid ‘Forced Fun.’ Consider allowing attendance at the company holiday party to be optional. Otherwise, employees could try to claim that attendance at the party constitutes “work” for which they are entitled to be compensated. Similarly, an employee who suffers an injury on the dance floor may attempt to claim workers’ compensation benefits.

Getting into the Spirits. Companies that serve alcohol risk the possibility of employees engaging in inappropriate, potentially sexually harassing behavior that might not occur if alcohol is left out of the equation. Other risks, such as liability resulting from serving alcohol to minors, may also be present. If alcohol must be served, consider taking precautionary measures, such as choosing a date, time and location that is likely to discourage excessive consumption; hiring a professional bartender who can assess intoxication levels; and limiting beverage selections. Companies may also want to consider providing employees with transportation after the party to limit the possibility of employees driving under the influence.

Lori A. Higuera is a director and co-chair of the employment and labor practice group at Fennemore Craig.

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