Last year’s 2018 Hol­i­day Par­ty Sur­vey by Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas found that just 65 per­cent of com­pa­nies were hold­ing hol­i­day fes­tiv­i­ties last year, the low­est rate since the 2009 reces­sion, and this trend is expect­ed to con­tin­ue into the 2019 hol­i­day sea­son (the 2019 report has not yet been released). While in 2009, hol­i­day par­ties were skipped for finan­cial rea­sons, today’s caus­es are more com­plex. Andrew Chal­lenger, VP of Chal­lenger, Gray & Christ­mas, spec­u­lat­ed that the two biggest fac­tors are #MeToo and an increase in the num­ber of remote employees.

If your com­pa­ny is among those cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day sea­son this year, what can you do to avoid lia­bil­i­ty from sex­u­al harass­ment, alco­hol con­sump­tion, and oth­er cat­e­gories of risk?

Risk: Harassment Allegations

  • Com­mu­ni­cate behav­ior expec­ta­tions to employ­ees ahead of time. Con­sid­er using this lan­guage to set stan­dards of con­duct. You may even choose to redis­trib­ute your sex­u­al harass­ment pol­i­cy. Be sure to empha­size that all employ­ee poli­cies apply at the par­ty, even if it is off-site or after work hours. Racial or sex­u­al jokes, inap­pro­pri­ate gag gifts, gos­sip­ing about office rela­tion­ships, and unwel­come touch­ing will not be per­mit­ted dur­ing the hol­i­day par­ty, just as they are not allowed in the office.
  • Do not allow employ­ees to get away with bad behav­ior. Remind your super­vi­sors to set a good exam­ple and keep an eye out for employ­ee behav­ior that needs man­ag­ing at the event.
  • Fol­low up imme­di­ate­ly on alle­ga­tions of inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior and con­duct a thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion of the facts, even if the alleged vic­tim does not file a com­plaint and you only hear about the behav­ior through the grapevine. If cor­rec­tive action is war­rant­ed, apply it promptly.
  • Invite sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers or fam­i­lies. Employ­ee behav­ior tends to improve at com­pa­ny events when spous­es or part­ners and chil­dren are present. If your bud­get allows, include the entire fam­i­ly in the cel­e­bra­tion. Be sure to review your lia­bil­i­ty cov­er­age with your bro­ker first.
  • Avoid inci­dents relat­ed to relaxed inhi­bi­tions by fol­low­ing the tips for reduc­ing alco­hol-relat­ed risks (see below).

Risk: Alcohol-Related Incidents

  • Take steps to lim­it alco­hol con­sump­tion. If alco­hol will be served, pro­vide plen­ty of food rich in car­bo­hy­drates and pro­tein to slow the absorp­tion of alco­hol into the blood­stream. You can also have a cash bar, lim­it the num­ber of drink tick­ets, or close the bar ear­ly to deter over-con­sump­tion. Also have a good selec­tion of non­al­co­holic bev­er­ages or a tasty sig­na­ture “mock­tail” avail­able. Make sure water glass­es are refilled frequently.
  • Get bar­tenders on board. If you have under­age work­ers or invite chil­dren of employ­ees, be sure that servers ask for ID from any­one who looks under age 30. Ask servers to cut off any­one who appears to be intoxicated.
  • Make sure employ­ees get home safe­ly. Offer incen­tives to employ­ees who vol­un­teer to be des­ig­nat­ed dri­vers, offer to pay for ride shares or taxis, or arrange group trans­porta­tion or accom­mo­da­tions. Plan­ning for safe trans­porta­tion can poten­tial­ly min­i­mize your lia­bil­i­ty if an employ­ee caus­es an acci­dent while dri­ving under the influence.
  • Do not serve alco­hol if your par­ty is at the office and your poli­cies do not per­mit drink­ing on com­pa­ny premis­es or dur­ing work hours. Deter employ­ees from an infor­mal after-par­ty at a bar or restau­rant where the alco­hol could flow.

Risk: Workers’ Compensation Claims

  • Keep the par­ty vol­un­tary and social. Typ­i­cal­ly, work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion does not apply if the injury is “incurred in the pur­suit of an activ­i­ty, the major pur­pose of which is social or recre­ation­al.” If the car­ri­er deter­mines that the com­pa­ny par­ty was tru­ly vol­un­tary and not relat­ed to work, you may not be liable for injuries sus­tained at the party.
  • Go off­site. Host­ing your hol­i­day par­ty at an off­site loca­tion is a smart idea. Your employ­ees will be thank­ful for the change in set­ting, and this could reduce insur­ance lia­bil­i­ties for your com­pa­ny, espe­cial­ly when it comes to third-par­ty alco­hol and injury policies.
  • Check with your bro­ker before the par­ty. Review your insur­ance poli­cies and par­ty plans to make sure you do every­thing you can to avoid risk and know how to han­dle any inci­dents that result from the party.

Risk: Perceptions of Unfairness

  • Deter­mine how to han­dle pay issues in advance of the par­ty. You’re not required to pay employ­ees who vol­un­tar­i­ly attend a par­ty after hours. How­ev­er, nonex­empt employ­ees need to be com­pen­sat­ed if they are work­ing the par­ty or if atten­dance is manda­to­ry. If the par­ty is held dur­ing reg­u­lar work hours, then all employ­ees must be paid for attend­ing the party.
  • Decide in advance whether and how to include remote employ­ees, inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors, tem­po­rary employ­ees, or agency work­ers. Be con­sis­tent in send­ing invi­ta­tions, and if a cat­e­go­ry of work­ers will not be invit­ed to the par­ty, con­sid­er oth­er ways to reward them for their hard work through­out the year, such as gifts.
  • Do not penal­ize employ­ees who choose not to attend. The mes­sage may be mis­in­ter­pret­ed and could cre­ate employ­ee rela­tions con­cerns. Be con­sid­er­ate of those who do not attend the event due to reli­gious beliefs, sobri­ety, men­tal health issues, fam­i­ly oblig­a­tions, child care con­flicts, or any oth­er rea­sons. Avoid reli­gious sym­bols or themes as they could offend indi­vid­u­als of dif­fer­ent faiths.

By Rachel Sobel
Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on