The holiday season is upon us and this brings the inevitable company holiday party. It’s the one night a year that employees are able to let loose and have fun in a non-work setting. It’s a time of eggnog, gift giving, and joy… at least we hope so.

It’s also the time of year that companies see an uptick in harassment and discrimination complaints, not to mention legal issues with employees drinking and driving. Often companies serve alcohol at holiday parties, which leads to lowered inhibitions and a greater chance of employees saying or doing things they normally wouldn’t. It doesn’t mean that alcohol shouldn’t be served at holiday parties, but it does mean that employers should be aware of potential risks caused by such parties.

The following is a list of 8 steps* employers can take to reduce HR risks during a holiday party.

1.        Make sure your employees understand that all company policies are still applicable. Just because no work is being performed while at the holiday party, it is still a work event.

2.        Management should set an example. If employees see their supervisor or manager getting drunk or acting inappropriate, they will be far more inclined to do the same.

3.        Use caution when serving alcohol. Consider using a professional bartender to mix drinks. They are often trained to determine if someone has had too much to drink and will stop serving him/her. Also consider drink tickets instead of an open bar. People are much more likely to drink more if it’s free all night. Have a manager keep an eye on the employees to ensure no one gets in their car to drive after too many drinks. You don’t want any employee drinking and driving. Since it could lead to a DUI, injury, or even death, having the company pay for an Uber or Lyft is worth the cost of a life.

4.        Keep the focus away from religion. Not everyone celebrates the same holiday in December so it’s a good idea to refrain from any overtly religious decorations as some may see it as religious discrimination.

5.        Don’t make attendance mandatory. If attendance is mandatory, it’s considered working hours and you will have to pay your hourly employees for the time spent at the party. Yes, overtime hours do apply.

6.        Be inclusive. Don’t invite only one department or fail to invite employees who telecommute. Those who aren’t included could see it as discrimination.

7.        Give business appropriate gifts. If your company gives gifts to employees at the party, make sure they aren’t offensive, even if it’s given as a joke.

8.        Respond to complaints quickly. If an employee complains about harassment or discrimination that took place at the holiday party, be sure to follow up and investigate promptly.

*This list is not intended to be all-inclusive.

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