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Top 10 Hits for a Liability-Free Holiday Party

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We would like to share this timely and informational article by Brian S. Kaplan and Elisheva M. Hirshman. 

With every holiday season comes the time-honored tradition of the office holiday party. A chance for companies nationwide to thank their workforces—and for employees to kick back with coworkers, clients and customers to celebrate the year’s accomplishments—these delightful functions can sometimes turn frightful for employers if they’re not well-managed. In the spirit of the year-end “Top 10” playlists, this article provides our own playlist (in no particular order) of do’s and don’ts to minimize the risk of problems.

10.“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke

Each year, the office holiday party season provides an excellent opportunity to remind employees of the employer’s antiharassment and workplace conduct policies, which apply to out-of-office functions such as the company’s holiday party or any other social gathering employees attend together. In the weeks leading up to the party, an email should go out to every employee attaching the applicable policies and outlining the company’s expectation that employees will conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with these policies. This email will clearly define the lines not to be crossed at the event.

9. “Manic Monday” by The Bangles

When planning the day to hold the office holiday party, consider not hosting the party on a “fun day,” such as a Thursday or a weekend. By picking a day early or in the middle of the week, employees will be more likely to monitor their behavior, recognizing that much of the work week is still ahead of them, and will be less likely to call in sick the next day, knowing that they will have to return to work before the week is out. Alternatively, a company may opt to host a daytime rather than evening party during normal business hours as another way of keeping the revelry under control.

8. “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO

The office holiday party is not an opportunity to show off one’s latest clubbing threads. Take the opportunity to remind employees of the appropriate dress code on the invitation or under separate cover. By scheduling the event for a weekday, employees may also be dissuaded from changing out of their work attire before heading to the party.

7. “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie

To avoid the risk of wage-and-hour claims by nonexempt employees (and remove any pressure to attend from those who prefer not to socialize with colleagues), make it clear either in the invitation or elsewhere that attendance is optional—not mandatory.

6. “Raise Your Glass” by P!nk

As any host knows, nothing gets a party started like the world’s oldest social lubricant. Unfortunately, drinking in excess also creates the potential for problems. If the company decides to serve liquor at the party, be sure that food is also served, as well as plenty of nonalcoholic alternatives.

5. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA

While some employment attorneys (and personal injury lawyers, for that matter) might advise against having a dance floor at a work function, we are personally suckers for a good—albeit work appropriate—dance party. Consider speaking with the DJ or band about playing music that will encourage line and group dances. Think: “Macarena” or “Sweet Caroline!” Also, keep an eye on the crowd. If the dancing starts to get more than PG, have the DJ or band take a break, and suggest that employees remember to keep their hands to themselves.

4. “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen

Just because an employee may “feel that magic” with a coworker or client doesn’t mean the feeling is mutual. The office holiday party—no matter how much liquid courage one has—is certainly not the place to find out if “this love is meant to be.” To the extent that a company has an antifraternization policy, this should be distributed along with the other policies in advance of the party. Not to mention that long, lascivious stares or “Hungry Eyes” have no place in the workplace, or out-of-office work functions, and this should be made clear to all employees in antiharassment trainings and policies.

3. “Home” by Chris Daughtry

If liquor is served, employers would be prudent to provide taxi or shuttle service home for those in attendance. Not only will this mitigate the company’s potential liability in the event of a car accident, but it will also deter employees from “crashing” with coworkers who live locally. The prospect of having to find one’s own way home when free transportation is available should also discourage employees from organizing after-parties. This perk will have the added benefit of encouraging attendance and instilling goodwill.

2. “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers

There is no time like the office holiday party for managers and supervisors to step it up and serve as role models for the workforce to lean on. In advance of the event, the company should remind all managers and supervisors to be on their best behavior. By acting as examples, supervisors and managers can set the professional (albeit festive) tone for the evening.

1. “Help!” by The Beatles

Finally, no matter how many precautions are taken, allegations of wrongdoing and misconduct at the office holiday party may still occur. Like all complaints, these should be taken seriously. The company must engage in prompt and thorough remedial action to address the issues, to help limit its liability and to avoid even the slightest perception of retaliation against the complaining employee or any employee who participates in an attendant investigation. When in doubt, speak with outside counsel about how to best address the situation.

A happy and lawsuit-free holiday to you and yours!

Brian S. Kaplan is a partner and Elisheva M. Hirshman is an associate in Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman’s employment practices and litigation group.