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Your Best Behavior

Office Holiday Party Etiquette

Most of us have been to staff holiday parties, and we have some pretty good stories to tell as a result. And it’s safe to say that the vast majority of those stories don’t involve heroism, or, say, acts of kindness. What we remember are the outlandish acts of often-intoxicated co-workers abandoning common sense and reason in favor of impulse and, well, stupidity.

In college, I worked at a microbrewery with two local restaurants. For a holiday celebration, management decided to get everyone together (a good idea) and let the brew taps flow endlessly (possibly the worst idea ever). The evening culminated in an actual crowd fight, the arrival of police, and several arrests. And in case you’re curious, I was a wallflower at the event. Trust me, watching all of that nonsense go down was amusement enough.

If you are a small business owner, you’re not looking to provide that kind of holiday entertainment. You just want to throw a nice little shindig and go home to your family. No witness statements to the police, no punches thrown, no legal liabilities. Here’s how to prevent a fa-la-la-lalawsuit against you, your company, and your employees.

Alcohol Most people expect a little liquid merriment at a work holiday party, and you might want to provide some. That’s fine, but consider safeguards to prevent access to alcohol by people under twentyone. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor is no small deal, and, remember, we are trying to avoid police involvement. You could have wristbands or hire a bartender who checks Ids. Also, consider instituting a work party policy that states minors under twenty-one who drink, and any adults who get them alcohol, will be terminated. Having drink tickets or a cash bar will deter excessive drinking, which is often the source of bad behavior—and legal issues. At the very least, provide cab vouchers for anyone who needs one. Trust me, paying for a taxi ride is cheaper than paying for a lawsuit that may be thrown your way if things take a wrong turn.

Sexual Harassment Sometimes when people enjoy the eggnog a bit too much, they cross lines they wouldn’t otherwise go near during a regular workday. While the illegal actions of an employee against another employee may not have legal consequences for you as a small business owner, the best bet for everyone is to prevent an incident from happening. Several days before the party, provide employees with copies of your company’s policy against sexual harassment, and remind them that appropriate behavior is expected at the party. A simple recap may help keep the rules fresh in everyone’s mind.

Religious Freedom Remember that people have the freedom to practice – or not practice – their religion of choice. Don’t force anyone to participate in any type of religious activity, or even the party itself; doing so can infringe upon rights and create a hostile work environment. While you do have the freedom to host a religion-specific holiday party, as long as you don’t force attendance, consider a holiday event that embraces a variety of traditions in decoration, food, and theme. Inclusivity will prevent otherwise marginalized people from feeling defensive, a good thing in general and a lawsuit deterrent to boot.

And in the midst of all these rules, remember to have a good time. Breaking out your eighties dance moves when the DJ plays Wham’s “Last Christmas” is the kind of thing that makes everyone smile. Within some reasonable parameters, you can enjoy a fun holiday staff party – with no lawyers involved. Unless, of course, you happen to work at a law firm.

Kelly Hall, Esq., is a full-time mom and part-time attorney. Through Legal Ease in RFM, she contributed articles about family law, legislation, and other legal issues for four years until she moved out of the area with her family in 2014.
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