The Company Holiday Party – An HR Manager’s Yearly Nightmare

Company Holiday PartyThe yearly HR nightmare that is the company holiday party occurs about this time every year.  Those who have been “around the block” in HR have learned the Do’s and Don’ts, what to avoid, and how to keep overindulgence of employees at bay.  Every year, there are legendary stories that spread through company legend about employee’s who made fools of themselves through too much alcohol consumption or some form of inappropriate behavior during or after the official company celebration.  There are many things to be aware of from an HR and legal perspective; I am going to highlight a few.

First and foremost is the decision whether or not to serve alcohol at the party.  I’ve worked for company’s that have gone both ways, and I’ve learned a thing or two.  If the decision is made to serve alcohol, you always need to communicate the policy on consumption prior to the event, which should clearly state the maximum number of drinks allowed, and the no tolerance policy for driving while intoxicated after the event.  One of the most successful ways to control alcohol intake is to hand out alcohol coupons upon their arrival at the party.  I have found that it is safe to keep it at a maximum of two drink coupons allowed per person.  Of course, you will always have the people who scrounge extra coupons from the non-drinkers.  This is why assigning what I call the holiday party “babysitters” is always a good idea.  I usually assign a handful of babysitters from the management and HR team who volunteer to abstain for the night to watch for the warning signs and to intervene if necessary.

Another thing to be aware of is the fact that some of your management team may also be offenders of overindulgence, which is why management should receive additional information about safety and company liability issues and reminded of their duty to be example setters in and outside the office.  It should be clearly communicated that no member of the management team should ever purchase alcoholic beverages for employees during or after the official party.  This opens up a huge potential for company liability should any incidents occur.  Frankly, it’s probably a good common sense rule of thumb in any employee-supervisor social situation.

If an employee becomes intoxicated at a company event, then gets into a car and hurts themselves or others, there is sure to be a claim of employer negligence.  I want to make it clear that I believe that management should be genuinely concerned for any potential safety issues regardless of the legal ramifications, but they should be informed.  Other potential issues arising out of over consumption of alcohol are the chances of inappropriate behavior arising such as sexual harassment or assault incidents.  Again, the company could be considered negligent, especially if precautions such as coupons are not taken.

So, there you have it.  Hopefully, your team can take a few simple precautions to ensure this year’s party is both fun and safe.  I am certain you all have your company holiday party stories and I’d love to hear about them.

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Aaron

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