3 Tips for Planning a Compliant Office Party

It’s the most festive time of the year.

Based on data from 2017, almost 80% of companies throw holiday parties. But this doesn’t mean HR departments can relax on policies. The office party is a perfect storm for issues that can lead to serious backlash and even litigation. To make sure your celebration is fun and festive instead of a combination of chaos and impropriety, follow these do’s and don’ts for your office holiday party from an HR perspective.

Set the tone of the office party

As the HR department, employees look to you on a regular basis to determine what is expected. The office party is no different. Make sure invitations or memos go out to employees with all the information they need.

This should of course include the date, time, and place, but also whether there’s a theme, dress code, rules about gift giving, and whether they’re allowed a guest.

Employees should also be gently but firmly reminded that office etiquette and protocol still stand at such gatherings, even if the party occurs offsite and outside of work hours.

Provide employees with a link to your company’s online handbook or make sure they have easy access to documented company protocol and procedures, including information on harassment, employee conduct, and end of year bonuses and raises.

Monitor alcohol intake

It’s not the holidays to some people without their favorite glass of red wine or cocktail, but this doesn’t mean you’re required to provide alcohol at your office party.

Before you splurge on the open bar, keep in mind that your company could be held responsible for any events that take place during or after the party as a result of overconsumption.

For example, an accident caused by an intoxicated employee could turn into a lawsuit for the company if you work in a state with social host liability laws.

There are ways to prevent intoxication at your celebration. Consider any of the following.

  • Host your party during the day. There’s no rule that says the office party must be held on a Saturday night. Cut the workday short on a Friday afternoon or consider a celebration with brunch at a local upscale hotel.
  • If you want to stick with a traditional evening party, work with a professional bartender instead of allowing employees to serve themselves. They’ll be properly trained to spot signs of intoxication. You can also consider hiring a shuttle service or arranging designated drivers to get everyone home safely.
  • Skip the typical party route all together and consider an alternative. Have employees spend the day volunteering together. Completing an outdoor challenge. Handing out tickets to the local zoo for them to enjoy with their families.

Make the office party inclusive

Your office party should be planned with all employees in mind. This means avoiding any themes or décor that could be considered offensive to an employee’s culture or religion. Skip the Christmas tree and office Santa and stick with a simple winter theme. Include a variety of food and beverages to meet dietary restrictions and make everything voluntary, from attending to gift giving.

At the same time, you want to make sure the party is enjoyable. It shouldn’t double as a progress meeting or serve as time to discuss a new client.

If you’re not sure how employees want to spend their time at the holiday party, ASK! You might be surprised at how simple it is to throw an office party that’s memorable, enjoyable, and safe from an HR perspective.

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