Tis the season for company holiday parties. The time of year when employees gather to mix and mingle with co-workers outside of the normal work setting. It sounds like a merry ol’ time to most, but holiday parties can be a headache for HR leaders. While it’s a great opportunity to thank employees for all their hard work and let loose, it’s important to ensure it happens responsibly. Every year, ThinkHR publishes tips for making events safer to decrease potential hidden costs involved in employer-sponsored events. This year we’ve broken it down into simple dos and don’ts to provide a high-level guide for executing this year’s festivities.
Follow your stated employee policies. Keep in mind that holiday parties are employer-sponsored, so the company may be responsible for whatever happens at the party and sometimes for events that occur after the party. Be sure to emphasize that all guidelines will apply to the party even if it is off-site or after work hours.
Consider taking steps to limit alcohol consumption. If you decide that alcohol will be served and the party is off-site and after hours, provide plenty of food rich in carbs and protein to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. You can also have a cash bar, limit the number of drink tickets or close the bar early to deter over-consumption.
Make sure your employees get home safely. Offer incentives to employees who volunteer to be designated drivers or arrange transportation and accommodations. Thinking ahead about transportation demonstrates responsibility on the employer’s part, as well as potentially minimizing the company’s liability if an employee causes an accident while driving under the influence.
Determine how to handle pay issues in advance of the party. It’s not required to pay employees that voluntarily attend a party after hours. However, nonexempt employees need to be compensated if they are working the party or if attendance is mandatory. If the party is held during regular work hours, then all employees would be paid for attending the party.
Make it a family affair. Experts suggest that employee behavior actually improves at company events when spouses or partners and children are present. If your budget allows, it can be a giant gesture to include the entire family in the celebration and one that many employees appreciate. Be sure to review your liability coverage with your broker first.
Do not allow employees to get away with any bad behavior. Follow up on any complaints associated with the holiday party and conduct a thorough investigation. Racial or sexual jokes, gossiping about office relationships, and unwelcome touching should not be permitted during the holiday party just as they are not allowed in the office.
Do not make your party work related to avoid liability for any injuries. Typically, workers’ compensation does not apply if the injury is “incurred in the pursuit of an activity, the major purpose of which is social or recreational.” If the carrier determines that the company party was truly voluntary and not related to work, then the carrier would most likely deny the claim.
Do not penalize employees who choose not to attend. The message may be misinterpreted and could create employee relations concerns for those who may have other religious beliefs or are simply uncomfortable attending the event. Avoid religious symbols or themes as they could offend individuals of different faiths.
Do not serve alcohol if your policies do not permit drinking either on your company’s premises or during work hours and you plan to have the party at the office as a part of the workday. Remind your supervisors to set a good example, keep an eye out for employee behavior that needs managing, and to deter employees from any informal gathering after the party that gets the alcohol flowing.
Do not forget to reach out to your broker if you have any questions or concerns. The holidays are a great time to spread cheer, and holiday parties help sustain a positive work culture, but it’s important to be aware of potential issues that could arise and to plan accordingly. We’re here to help you along the way, as are your brokers, so be sure to leverage all of your resources.
Have more questions related to your company’s holiday party? Check out this Q&A from a recent ThinkHR webinar.