Now that we can gather in person again (perhaps with masks and other precautions), celebrations will happen for some organizations – and you’ll want to have a lawsuit-free holiday office party.
According to a survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 57% of companies are planning to hold an in-person holiday party this year.
Usually filled with food and games, these events develop and strengthen relationships between colleagues and build a better overall team dynamic. But sometimes, employees forget that the regular rules of the workplace still apply.
The reality is, if you skimp on the holiday office party planning, the gift you could be getting this year is an employment lawsuit. It’s easier to prevent a lawsuit than it is to face one after it’s been filed, and most incidents can be avoided with proper planning.
1. Keep the party optional
The last thing you want is to force an employee to come to the party and they get injured, ill, or harassed. They’re far more likely to be spiteful and pursue legal action if they didn’t want to be at the party anyway.
Instead, invite and encourage all employees to attend, but don’t be pushy. Offer alternate means to pick up bonuses, corporate gifts, holiday cards, or other goodies that will be handed out at the party.
This is especially important during the global pandemic. If an employee doesn’t feel comfortable exposing themselves to potential infection, they shouldn’t have to. Don’t let your company be like this Spanish hospital, where dozens of staff tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a Christmas dinner together.
2. Be inclusive
Avoid potential inclusion issues and give every employee a fun celebration to look forward to by providing a variety of décor, games, food, and drinks, not just those that are “Christmas” themed.
Choose more generic “holiday” or winter theming such as snow, glitter, sweets, woodland or animals and use these as your inspiration. Even better, don’t theme your activities or food offerings at all.
Don’t let your inclusivity stop there. In addition, consider these ways to make your party more inclusive:
- Choose a venue that’s accessible to guests with physical or neurological differences (e.g. avoid stairs, overly dark venues, and loud music).
- Host the party during work hours so employees with caretaking responsibilities don’t have to hire help.
- If you have bilingual employees, make announcements and play music in languages other than English.
3. Circulate – and follow – work policies
This is arguably the most important precaution to take while planning your office holiday party. Before the party day, send out a company-wide email with these policies (or other relevant ones) attached:
- The company code of conduct. The normal standards of the workplace still apply.
- Zero-tolerance approach. Warn employees that the company is taking a zero-tolerance approach and behavioral misconduct will be dealt with accordingly.
- Rules regarding substance abuse. Review “responsible” alcohol consumption. Remind employees that drugs will not be tolerated.
- Refresh the social media policy. Review current company standards regarding unauthorized photos, videos, and overall privacy.
- The health and safety policy. Ensure members of your safety committee are up to date on their certifications and help them locate fire extinguishers and defibrillators at the party venue.
In the email, remind employees that they should have fun while remaining respectful to themselves, their coworkers, and the party venue.
You might also want to have employees sign a compliance sheet before the big day. This is a good way to get the point across about behavior at the office holiday party.
4. Organize a range of activities
Keep guests busy and out of trouble with activities all night long. Plan a variety of games, events, programs, and speakers throughout the night to give employees something to do besides drink, and to ensure there’s something fun for everyone to enjoy.
Here are a few activities to plan for your corporate party:
- Trivia (try general knowledge or related to your industry; Christmas-themed could be considered exclusive).
- Charades (great for team-building or as a way for employees in different departments to meet).
- Employee Awards Ceremony (show your appreciation and build morale at the same time).
- Gift-wrapping competition (silly challenges bring up the party energy mid-way through).
- Scavenger hunt (for a twist, make it a selfie scavenger hunt).
5. Offer a variety of food and drinks
Make sure there is something for everyone at the party. Consider employees who might have allergies, sensitivities, preferences, or religious restrictions when planning your food menu. Clearly mark foods that contain animal products and common allergens such as gluten, eggs, milk, and nuts.
If possible, give employees with food sensitivities the first pass at the buffet or hors d’oeuvres platters. This ensures the food they can actually eat won’t run out.
At the bar or drink station, include lots of non-alcoholic options to discourage over-indulging, Stock juices, soft drinks, or even a fun mocktail, and employees might opt for one of those instead.
6. Limit drinking time
Closing the bar two hours before the party ends is a good practice that many companies follow to allow partygoers to metabolize alcohol before leaving.
To further reduce the odds that employees will grab one drink too many, hand out a set amount of drink tickets or tokens per guest. This helps you to limit and/or monitor how much everyone is drinking.
7. Keep it civil; intervene if necessary
There are so many incidents that could happen at an office holiday party: harassment, illnesses, injuries, theft. To make sure things don’t get out of hand, recruit volunteers who can keep an eye on things and are willing to intervene if necessary.
While everyone will be in the festive spirit, if an incident does happen, you’ll need to log it right away. If you use web-based case management software, you can create new files for these incidents from anywhere with an internet connection, so you won’t forget the details by the time you get back to the office. Choose a system that integrates with your other HR tools and pulls the relevant employee information into the case file, eliminating the need to type or copy it, so you can get back to celebrating faster.
8. Review to improve next year
After the party, do a full review to plan for next year.
Were there a lot of harassment incidents? Rethink next year’s approach to harassment training. Did you run out of gluten-free food too early? Diversify next year’s menu with more allergy-friendly options.
A little foresight and planning can go a long way toward preventing harassment or safety incidents that could lead to employee lawsuits or even non-compliance penalties. Plan an office holiday party that is inclusive and safe, and the whole company will hold memories of the party for years to come (for the right reasons).