Holiday Parties: Proceed with Caution

The almost daily revelations of workplace sexual harassment should be enough to drive home the idea that if your company is tossing a holiday party this year, be extra careful. And reconsider offering alcohol to party-goers, according to experts.

One related recent survey, from Global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., found that HR leaders nationwide may be a bit more cautious regarding the annual company year-end bash.

Reaching out to 150 HR representatives, the survey found 80 percent of employers plan to host holiday parties this year, approximately the same as last year. On the flip side, 11 percent of employers will not hold a holiday party, up from 4 percent in 2016. It’s also the highest percentage since post-recession 2009, when 25 percent did not have parties.

On the booze front, fewer of these parties will serve alcohol (47 percent, compared to 62 percent last year). Using caterers and/or allowing employees to bring guests are also down from previous years.

“Employers are currently very wary of creating an environment where inappropriate contact between employees could occur,” Challenger said. “One way to create a safer environment is to limit the guest list, hold the party during the workday, and avoid serving alcohol.”

Beth Zoller, legal editor at XpertHR, an online HR compliance resource, said in a company release that thanking employees for a job well done via holiday parties is a good thing, but certainly there are risks, ranging from claims of religious discrimination and sexual harassment to drunk driving.

Zoller said employers should be especially careful if serving alcohol because it can result in some very bad outcomes, including car accidents, injuries, discrimination, harassment and inappropriate and offensive conduct. Management should make sure that all employees are completely sober before driving home. In fact, she said, a luncheon may be safer as employees may be likely to drink less during daytime hours.

Employers should also avoid hanging mistletoe as a decoration, as this not only could lead to religious discrimination claims, but also to potential claims for sexual harassment.

“If an employer is not extra careful, things can turn sour in a hurry,” Zoller said.