Danielle M. Verderosa

Danielle M. Verderosa

President, HR Allies

‘Tis the Season for Bad Behavior: 7 HR Compliance Tips for Holiday Party Success

Why does HR hate holiday parties?

We don’t hate them – but (on behalf of our employer) we’re scared of errrrrrr apprehensive about them. So many HR compliance concerns! So much could go wrong! And what goes wrong could result in a great employee having to be fired for their horrid holiday party behavior, or a lawsuit against the company from an outraged, offended co-worker.

I just saw a survey that said that 14% of employees who’ve attended a company holiday party admitted to “regrettable actions” at the event. I wonder how many others didn’t admit to them – or even remember them?

Are you planning on a holiday party for your employees?

More than 75 percent of companies will host a holiday party this year – and some surveys suggest it’s closer to 90% now that the pandemic is over.

More than half of these gatherings will include alcohol.

You have HR around to keep you out of trouble, right? So welcome to my over-anxious mind (again, on behalf of employers who need protecting) and read my seven HR Compliance Tips for Holiday Party Success.

1. Drinking Dilemmas

Don’t get me wrong – HR likes a drink or two, too. (In fact, sometimes we need it).

While providing alcohol at your party can set a jovial tone, excessive drinking often leads to corporate party predicaments. In several states, companies can be held accountable for alcohol-related incidents, even if the party takes place off-site. Mitigate risks with these precautions:

• Avoid an open bar.
• Prohibit employees from bringing or mixing their own drinks.
• Opt for drink tickets instead of an open or cash bar.
• Enlist a trained bartender to monitor alcohol consumption.
• Stick to beer and wine.
• Provide food to temper the effects of alcohol.

2. Preventing Unwanted Advances

The combination of alcohol and festive cheer heightens the risk of sexual harassment incidents. To preemptively address this concern:

• Redistribute company policies on appropriate behavior.
• Emphasize that the holiday party is an extension of the workplace.
• Respond promptly and seriously to any reports of harassment.
• Forgo the mistletoe – it’s a risk best avoided.

3. Inclusivity Matters

Recognize that employees celebrate the holidays in diverse ways. Ensure your party caters to everyone, including those who abstain from drinking or aren’t keen on office games. Avoid making the party overly focused on religious elements; instead, embrace secular decorations. Extend invitations to remote employees to foster an inclusive atmosphere.

4. Attendance Dilemmas

This same survey I read said that 66 percent of employees believe attending their company’s party is an unwritten rule, yet 62 percent don’t eagerly anticipate the event.

It’s ironic, because while you’re trying hard to provide a fun, joyous, and celebratory event to say “thank you” to your employees, more than half of them won’t perceive your party as “joyful.”

Fear of repercussions shouldn’t be the reason employees attend the holiday party. When you send out invitations or announcements about your holiday party, make sure you note that attendance is optional — and explicitly communicate this to avoid misunderstandings.

And just in case you have supervisors so eager to spread the company cheer that they may pressure their employees into attending — remind them not to take adverse actions against those who choose to skip the festivities.

5. The Extra Benefit of Inviting Spouses

Not only is it a wonderful gesture to invite significant others to the holiday party, but studies show that their presence helps keep your employees’ potential bad behavior in check. Think of them as your secret weapon to keep an eye on behavior so that you don’t have to do it alone.

6. Deputize Some Party Police

I know what you’re thinking: HERE WE GO … HR LOVES TO POLICE THINGS.

Well, someone has to protect the company from employee actions that could result in lawsuits.

Let me put in a plug for appointing someone other than HR to stay completely sober and monitor things at your holiday party. We fill that role every other day of the year – just once, can’t we be part of the party and enjoy ourselves too? Let some other responsible manager keep an eye out to nip potential problems in the bud.

7. Driving Safely Home

We all still shudder from the case many years ago in California that highlights the company’s liability when an employee, post-holiday party, was involved in a drunk-driving accident that resulted in fatalities.

If your party involves alcohol, consider offering alternative transportation options for attendees. Implement a discreet reimbursement system for those who choose cabs or ride-sharing services.

Here’s what not to do, though – don’t let supervisors drive subordinates home (wayyy too risky for real or alleged sexual harassment claims.)

Conclusion: Balancing Fun and Compliance

These HR Compliance Tips for Holiday Party Success aren’t intended to dampen your holiday party planning spirit. Instead, it’s a reminder that the season of joy can bring about compliance challenges. Approach your event decisions with a healthy dose of common sense to ensure a festive and trouble-free celebration.

Wishing you a joyful and compliant holiday season!

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