Ask An HR Expert: Planning Your Annual Holiday Party

Today’s question – I would like to begin planning our annual holiday party. How can I keep liability to a minimum?

Hello! My name is Katie Stewart with Tandem HR. Thank you for joining me for Ask An HR Expert. Today’s question is “I would like to begin planning our annual holiday party. How can I keep liability to a minimum?”

This is the time of year that a lot of companies are starting to plan their annual holiday party. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) claims that three out of every four companies does provide some sort of holiday event for their employees. So, what can we do to make sure it is a fun time, but that the company isn’t leaving room for liability on the table?

1| Watch what you call it.

One thing I recommend is to be sensitive about individual’s different religions. We shouldn’t call the party anything specific like “Annual Christmas Party” to be respectful of other religions and individuals that celebrate different holidays during this season. You can simply call it an “annual all-company party” or something similar.

2| Limit the duration.

I recommend limiting the number of hours of the event. Start it in the afternoon by closing the office a little early – say 2:00 p.m. Maybe have the party from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Hosting it directly after worktime leaves no time for employees to “pre-party.” Also, when closing the office a little early, employees see the party as “still on work time.”

3| Offer alternative transportation.

If you are serving alcohol at the party, I recommend you offer an option for individuals to have a safe ride home in the event they consume too much. Whether it’s having taxi company’s phone numbers available or someone responsible for booking an Uber or Lyft rides. Make sure employees are aware of the options and you appoint someone to coordinate them.

4| Communicate expectations.

Send out a memo prior to the holiday party. I like to call it a “respect memo.” Let everyone know they should enjoy themselves at the party but should also respect co-workers and remain mindful that this is a professional gathering.

5| Don’t over serve.

If you’re serving alcohol at the party, I recommend that you limit the number of alcoholic drinks someone can consume. This can be accomplished in several ways. Limiting the number of hours of the event will help. You can also close the bar during a meal if you are serving one. You can also give a certain number of drink tickets.

Another great way to passively discourage excessive drinking is to offer other activities throughout the event. This will naturally lessen the number of times someone may go back and forth to the bar. For example, a white elephant gift exchange, a team building activity or anything that will get individuals engaged in activities other than drinking.

6| Let’s face it – everyone is probably looking at HR at this party.

“When is HR going to leave so we can let loose and have fun?” In reality, there should be someone there at all times to make sure behaviors are in control. It must be someone comfortable stepping in when anything does get out of control and putting a stop to any behavior that isn’t appropriate.

The goal is to make sure that everyone has a good time and feels comfortable while making sure there are no regrets the next day and of course to minimize company liability. I hope you all have a safe holiday season and enjoy your annual holiday party.

Thank you for joining me for Ask An HR Expert.

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