Over the past few years, the author has written a "Holiday Article" to provide some guidance/legal insight into the somewhat complicated "Business Holiday Party". I have received numerous suggestions and/or recommendations (and some good natured kidding), but I am not deterred! It is never too early to begin planning for the Holiday Season of Calendar 2018!
There is no doubt whatsoever that the festive season of November and December calls out every year for a business celebration and it is incumbent upon all Employers to be well prepared both for the party and the potential problems that it can create. Do not forget that we are a highly litigious society and individuals are always looking to "stick it to somebody" to enhance their financial standing. It is not too far-fetched to believe that Employers may be liable for injuries caused to innocent third parties under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior and, therefore, any Employer-related activity must be planned and controlled. The author would be naïve and "out of the loop" to not realize that the threat of Sexual Harassment may be in the mix.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Required Attendance/"Be Happy" - While sharing of Holiday Cheer is always better when "all are present", do not require attendance at any Holiday Function. This may cause an Employee and/or Employees to be negative about the event and that can (will?) breed trouble. Also, required attendance may cause someone to raise the question "Are we paid for this event?", and that will certainly "cast a damper" on the festivities. The author is also aware that there are organizations that not only require attendance, but want everyone to be happy. Happiness and enjoyment cannot be decreed and/or required - these arise only from the relationships of people and cannot be force fed.
2. Lead By Example - It is extremely important that Owners, Officers, Managers and Supervisors provide an example of good behavior and festive cheer at any event.
3. Alcohol Consumption - It has been clearly established that alcohol consumption goes hand-in-hand with any party and if you were to eliminate alcohol consumption completely, you might dampen the morale and spirit of some of the Employees attending. This does not mean that you have to have an open bar for the entire event. You can (and should) limit the consumption of alcohol by eliminating hard spirits entirely and having wine and beer as your alcohol. You can further limit the consumption of alcohol (i.e. allow hard spirits, wine and beer) through the issuance of drink tickets with a large number of non-alcoholic beverage tickets as part of the package. Please remember that Employees can exchange drink tickets with each other. You must also make absolutely certain that there is sufficient food available and passed around to help control alcohol consumption and absorption. Some Employers consider "the use of incentives" to individuals to act as designated drivers and, on some instances, have also provided for cab fare for individuals who have over imbibed. As a final suggestion, put an exact time schedule on the event (12:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.) to limit the drinking time. Remember, an afternoon event (12:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.) is better for control and availability to work on the next day!
4. Compensation and Bonuses - Based on the Court decisions and the National Labor Relations Board, you cannot prohibit Employees from discussing wage related issues. Therefore, consider providing year end salary adjustments and bonuses after the conclusion of the holiday party. No one needs a scene or confrontation related to Employee disagreements about who got the bigger wage increase or bonus.
5. Selfies - In our current society, and with the heavy prevalence of cellphone cameras, make sure that your Employees are aware that there are privacy issues involving other Employees and that the snapping of a picture or video of themselves and/or others may be inappropriate. "Before you focus and snap the picture - get permission". Also, on the party invitation, suggest to the Employees that this is a festive but private event and social postings about what occurs at the event, may not be appropriate.
6. Time and Location of the Party - This is an issue that bedevils Employers on a yearly basis. Should the party take place at the business location or should it be offsite? The author suggests that strong consideration be given to having the party at a public offsite facility rather than the business location. The public location will have professional Employees who provide food service and drinks and also will provide a potential barrier to liability with regard to third parties. If it is your confirmed belief that the party should be at the workplace location, it is still strongly recommended that the party be during the week and during normal business hours so that office protocols and policies will still apply. There is no doubt in the mind of the author that a party during the week and on normal business hours will drastically cut back on potential bad behavior and unfortunate incidents.
7. Spouses and Significant Others - There is no doubt that the presence of a spouse or significant other may ameliorate certain behaviors. In fact, it may be an adjunct to boosting the morale of Employees and rewarding them for a job well done if the spouse or significant other is there to celebrate with them. This may help keep the party atmosphere professional.
8. Threat of Sexual Harassment - In our current environment, with a festive atmosphere and the consumption of alcohol, the potential for any inappropriate or misunderstood comment will be more probable. Make sure all Employees are aware that inappropriate behavior and/or inappropriate comments will "damper the holiday cheer" and must be avoided and will not be tolerated.
Whether the Holiday Party is held at your business location or at a public facility, please make sure that you remind Employees of any workplace policies or procedures that will apply and that the Company will not tolerate inappropriate behavior and violations of its policies. It is also strongly recommended that appropriate notice be put in place to suggest that social media postings would not be appropriate for this festive event.
In closing, please enjoy the 2018 holiday season. It is truly a festive time and with appropriate planning and control, the festivities will be much happier!
Questions? Contact Attorney Walter Liszka in our Chicago office at (312) 629-9300 or by e-mail at [email protected].