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1 Million Views for All the Wrong Reasons: How to Keep Your Office Holiday Party From Going Viral

Your annual holiday party presents an opportunity for employees and management to cut loose and celebrate their accomplishments in the past year. It also presents an opportunity to make some bad decisions—which, unfortunately, may have lingering consequences long after the last guests have made it home. From employees making a scene to sexual harassment allegations, there’s a lot on the line during holiday festivities, especially in the day and age when all public activities could wind up on the Internet. In fact, a poll conducted by a job search website recently concluded that as many as 1 in 10 workers have admitted “to having either done something extremely regrettable and been fired because of it (four percent), or acted in a way that was somewhat regrettable and damaged their career/reputation (five percent)” at an office party.  

In light of these realities, here are three considerations to keep in mind as you prepare for your company-sponsored end-of-year celebrations.

1. Hold the Nog?

Alcohol consumption is the cause of many holiday gathering mishaps—from harassment allegations to assault claims to driving under the influence. Courts have held employers vicariously liable for injuries caused when an employee drove drunk and caused an accident after a holiday party. Arranging transportation for employees, holding the party in a convenient location, and reducing alcohol consumption could help employers avoid such claims.

Moreover, in the age of the Weinstein effect, many employers have decided to forego the two drink tickets that they ordinarily would distribute to employees at their holiday festivities in favor of a dry party. One placement company estimates that approximately 49 percent of companies will serve alcohol at their 2017 holiday parties—whereas in 2015, 62 percent of employers served alcohol.

2. The Setting

One way to manage the consequences of a holiday celebration is to choose locations and times that are less conducive to employee misconduct. Consider a fine dining event, a casual midday lunch, or an afternoon break.

Considerations for employers include:

  • whether the party will be after-hours or during the regular workday;
  • whether the atmosphere will be formal or casual; and
  • whether an attraction or activity will be scheduled for the party.

Each of these factors can affect attendees’ conduct at the event.

3. The Guest List

There are a number of ways that a guest list can affect the tone of a holiday gathering. One thing employers may want to consider is ensuring that their managers and supervisors—from front-line to high-level executives—are invited to the party. The presence of management does not just serve the purpose of ensuring basic workplace decorum, it also gives employees and managers an opportunity to spend time together in a more relaxed setting, which is one of the primary benefits of an office party in the first place.

In addition, employers may want to consider inviting employees to bring their significant others to the holiday parties. While their presence might increase “the awkwardness factor,” the presence of spouses might also have a policing effect on employees’ behavior. Additionally, as is the case with the presence of managers, the presence of significant others might give employees the opportunity to get to know one another better.

Don’t Be a Grinch

Holiday parties can be a fun break for employees and boost employee morale as long as employers consider the risks and plan accordingly. In addition to analyzing the aforementioned factors, employers may want to take some other simple steps:

  • Update the company harassment policy.
  • Remind employees of the expected conduct before the party. This need not take the form of a company-wide email. Companies may simply task their managers with reminding their staff to maintain a professional atmosphere.
  • If a complaint arises in the wake of the party, conduct a full and prompt investigation.

For more tips on planning a mishap free holiday party, check out our article, “Keep Your Holiday Parties Merry, Bright, and Out of Court.”

© 2019, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.

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About this Author

Managing Editor of Firm Publications

Hera S. Arsen, J.D., Ph.D., is Managing Editor of the firm's publications, overseeing the firm's print and online legal publications and content. Hera, who joined Ogletree Deakins in 2003, is directly responsible for writing and editing the firm's national legal content, including coverage of federal agencies and the Supreme Court of the United States. She also oversees the Ogletree Deakins blog, which covers the latest legal news from over 20 practice-areas and jurisdictions. As leader of the firm's blog, Hera writes blog posts on a variety of legal issues, edits...

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