The relaxed atmosphere of a company party can raise morale, increase a sense of belonging, and solidify corporate culture while rewarding the year’s hard work.   At this time of year, many employers are booking sites, calling caterers and planning to party.  As you dust off the holiday decorations and don that party dress, keep these few tips in mind to help your workplace colleagues revel safely.

Alcohol – Let’s face it, offering spirits at parties keeps the spirits of those in attendance high.  But alcohol can lead to reduced inhibitions and poor judgment calls if provided at office parties without limitation.  Add a dark room, music, and stir and, well, you get the idea.  Year after year, the turn of the calendar brings harassment and tort claims (assault, battery, negligent supervision and retention, and social host liability) resulting from holiday party conduct, fueled by employer-provided alcohol.  Tragic results and law suits have followed managers’ poor decisions to permit employees to drive home intoxicated, and even to provide solo cab rides home for inebriated staffers.  At your next shin-dig, consider limiting alcoholic offerings, implementing an early “last call”, and providing beverage options and sufficient food.  Unsurprisingly, inviting spouses and significant others to the gathering tends to reduce shenanigans.  Insist that hired servers refuse to serve anyone who appears drunk, include indemnification and hold harmless clauses in your catering/site contracts, and deputize a few managers to watch for anyone who appears impaired.

Social Media – Recognize that nearly everyone has a smartphone.  After everyone has donned their holiday best and thrown back a few, opportunities for selfies, tweets, and YouTube videos abound.  Remind attendees to be respectful of the sensitivities and privacy concerns of fellow revelers.  As your mother may have taught you, don’t create an environment where your staff can be caught doing something they (and you) wouldn’t want to see plastered on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. In today’s digital world, it takes but a second for the unflattering moment to be irretrievably “out there” for the entire world to see.

Accommodations – No matter how inclusive you strive to be, remember that even a christmakwanzanukah party may cross the line in the minds of some employees.  Recent religious accommodation law suits have focused on allegations resulting from consequences imposed on employees who refused to work on the day of the office holiday party celebration because of their personal religious observances.  The party should be secular.  Attendance should be voluntary.

Voluntariness – Clearly convey that attendance at the party is completely voluntary.  In cases where attendance is required or implied, employees have filed workers’ compensation claims for injuries sustained at the company event.  Supervisors who have required attendance at office parties (in some cases, during a plaintiff’s medical leave) have found themselves on the wrong side of the “v.”  While claims seeking pay for time spent at the holiday party are admittedly rare, it is best to avoid any such temptation by ensuring that non-exempt employees understand that they are not required to attend.  To eliminate wage-related concerns, consider scheduling the holiday party during regular working hours and do not ask or permit non-exempt employees to prepare for or work the party outside their regular hours unless you intend to pay for that time.

Policies – The rules do not cease to apply when the party music begins.  Remind office colleagues that company policies adhere, whether the party is held in the office or off-site.  Promptly investigate and resolve any complaints about party-time policy breaches, and discipline policy violations appropriately. Circulate your dress code, social media guidelines and policy against sexual harassment before the party, and remind employees a few days before the celebration to always behave professionally at work events.

Enjoy responsibly!