The holiday season is officially upon us, which means many employers will be hosting their annual holiday parties and year-end celebrations in the weeks to come. These parties are a time-honored tradition to many and are generally considered as a great way to boost morale, thank your team for a prosperous year, spread cheer, and foster camaraderie in the year to come. However, these events can also pose a hotbed of potential legal issues for employers that you should consider when hosting a party.
Social Events and Potential HR Nightmare Prevention
While company social events may seem like a wonderful idea, there are some built-in traps that every company should be aware of both before they send out the invitations to a holiday gathering and during the event itself. Here are some of the potential issues to consider:
- Invitation wording— everyone should remember that Christmas is an inherently Christian celebration. Therefore, it is important to consider that you are likely to employ people who are not Christian, and you need to decide how to word the invitation to foster inclusion. Year-end celebration or holiday celebration are both generic terms that many organizations have begun to adopt.
- Attendance requirements— as a company representative, you should never mandate attendance at any company-sponsored social event, particularly now in given the pandemic. If you are hosting any type of social event, particularly off-site or after-hours, it is also a good idea to include spouses, partners, or dates in the invitation. This can oftentimes minimize the risk of behavior that could occur after a couple of drinks of liquid courage and may even reduce the potential of harassment or misconduct complaints occurring at the event.
- Over-indulgence of alcohol— whether at the office or outside the office, any company-sponsored event where alcohol is served opens up the potential for a lawsuit if an employee gets intoxicated. A good practice is to offer a limited number of tickets for drinks, have a cash bar, or simply not serve alcohol at all.
- Inappropriate discussions — one of the things you should be aware of is that, because the event is considered social, many of your employees may feel that this is an open invitation to be themselves. While you certainly want people to relax and have a good time, it is also worth the time to review company policies and remind people that these policies also apply during company-sponsored events, including holiday gatherings.
Why Precautions are Necessary
While you may think that preventative steps are unnecessary, some studies show that January tends to be the month where there are more complaints about alleged infractions. People who are at social events tend to be less cautious about their discussions, might relax more after a couple of alcoholic beverages, and may otherwise allow caution to fly out the window. Making sure you are taking the necessary precautions to avoid potential claims of harassment, sexual assault, bullying, discrimination, or even gossip that may be damaging to an employee.
Furthermore, keep in mind that continuously reiterating to staff members about dress codes, company policies, and acceptable practices at a company-sponsored event is always a good idea, whether the event is being held on or off-site. These precautions not only provide you, the employer, with some protection, they also provide employees with the confidence of knowing that while they may be celebrating, they are also still protected by your workplace policies.
Remember, something as simple as a gift exchange could even cause potential problems if you are not proactive in taking steps to remind people about your internal policies regarding sexual harassment, inappropriate language, and hostile work environments. Taking a few additional steps ahead of these events may help you avoid some of these common issues.
If Best Efforts Fail and You Are Facing Complaints
You may do everything right and yet you still find yourself with one or more employees filing a complaint against another employee because of something that occurred at an end-of-year holiday party. Do not let this incident completely disrupt your workplace. Since you were likely at the event, there is a good chance you will want to separate yourself from the investigation of any claims that arise. That is where Ablin Law can help.
You can contact Ablin Law by telephone at 312.288.2012, text 773.230.4386, or email [email protected] and talk to us about any post-holiday complaints or workplace accusations. We can conduct an independent investigation on your behalf and make sure you are aware of all the facts pertaining to the complaint so you can take whatever steps may be necessary to restore your employee’s faith in your company.