Office holiday parties can be a blast for you and your workers. But employers shouldn't end up on a lawyer's "naughty" list by throwing them without considering some potential legal consequences first.
To keep your festive fete above board, here are five legal dos and don'ts for your small business' holiday bash:
1. DON'T Make It About One Holiday or Another.
Yes, it's no coincidence that office holiday parties tend to kick off around December, as many employees are in eager anticipation of Christmas. But your company's celebration should be inclusive of all employees' beliefs and cultures.
As Bloomberg reports, you may offend some of your employees by calling it a "holiday" party and not giving full deference to anyone's preferred religious holiday (i.e., Christmas or Hanukkah). But you'll likely save your company a stocking full of lawsuits for religious discrimination.
2. DO Restrict Alcohol Use.
It wouldn't be an office holiday party without spiked egg nog, right?
Ho ho no!
Mix together tense co-workers in a party atmosphere with a splash of vermouth, and you've likely served up a sexual harassment liabili-tini. Consider serving very little alcohol or no alcohol at all to keep the drunken shenanigans out of your lawyer's office.
3. DON'T Forget Guests.
Not only should you think of your employees, but also remember any guests they might bring. Holiday party guests are a great excuse to check your walkways and stairways for potential falling hazards, and doing so may prevent future slips and falls -- even after December.
Also consider opening your party to "employees and guests," reports Bloomberg, while keeping the definition of guests broad enough to allow contractors and interns to attend without feeling left out.
4. DO Provide Rides Home.
If you must give your employees access to the sauce, ensure that there are plenty of designated drivers or cabs on hand to send them on their merry way. Failing to do so may place a small business owner on the hook for an employee's drunken mishaps later that night.
5. DON'T Make the Party Mandatory.
If you make it clear to your employees that attendance at your fun office holiday party is required, you may be opening up your business to a host of Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state labor claims. Plus, nothing kills holiday cheer like disgruntled employees who feel forced to be somewhere.
These dos and don'ts should help your holiday party be a blast and not a legal bust. For more specific legal guidance about your business' holiday celebrations, consider consulting an experienced business lawyer near you.
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- All I want for Christmas is a lawsuit-free-holiday-party (Lexology)
- Office Holiday Parties Shouldn't Get You Sued (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- About That Holiday Party... (FindLaw's Insider)
- How to Limit Your Holiday Party Liability (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)