Company Holiday Parties Can Be an Invitation to Disaster

Holiday parties where alcohol is served are hotbeds for trouble. Even innocuous activities, such as games and secret gift exchanges, have the potential to backfire. There are ways, however, to allow your employees to celebrate in happy, healthy ways.

The ideal holiday celebration is a hosted nonalcoholic lunch for employees only, giving them the rest of the day off to celebrate with friends and family or otherwise relax.

If alcohol must be served, limit employees to 1-2 drinks.

Here’s the problem. If more or unlimited alcohol is served and the company provides Uber service home for employees, it may be seen as a signal that it is acceptable to get drunk. While the company shields itself from liability regarding driving under the influence, it opens a Pandora’s box to a panoply of bad behavior sparked by alcohol and reduced inhibitions. Many a sexual harassment case contains at least an element of after-hours or other company celebrations.

If you must serve alcohol, make your policies regarding its use crystal clear. If the event is held at a hotel, offer hotel rooms for employees. If not, ensure they take Uber or a private taxi home from the event. That’s right--forbid transportation home from the event in a private vehicle.

Likewise, some types of entertainment, gift exchanges or so-called “Secret Santa” games put employees in untenable positions. Some will not want to participate but feel forced to. Others will not be able to afford a gift, but feel they must do so to keep their jobs. Worse, some employees may feel uncomfortable or take offense with the gifts they receive (for example, a female employee receiving bath salts and body lotion from her male boss), or perceive some kind of inequity in the gift they received versus the gift given a highly favored employee.

Holidays are time to celebrate with family and friends. While we may have close relationships with the people we work with, it does not mean we should or need to join together to commemorate the event.