The Dos and Dont's at company holiday parties

- Employers often choose the holiday season to reward employees and celebrate a year of hard work, but such holiday gatherings can present pitfalls. Deborah Brouwer, a partner at Detroit-based management labor and employment law firm Nemeth Law, P.C., suggests employers put extra thought into planning their holiday celebrations to make sure everyone remains safe, happy and employed.

Brouwer offers the following guideless and considerations:

- For parties held outside regular office hours, start and end the party early, for example, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., to help prevent employees from over-indulging.
- Inclusion is important, so invite everyone, but make it clear that attendance is voluntary. Not everyone celebrates the holidays, and employees should not feel pressured to attend a party that might offend their religious beliefs.
- Senior management and HR representatives should attend the holiday party, be conspicuously visible and exhibit model behavior.
- Remind employees to never drink and drive. If possible, arrange for transportation in advance in case there are employees who need a ride home. Shuttles and car services are an excellent option, but may be costly. Consider alternatives, including offering to reimburse employees for cab fares or ride-hailing services such as Uber.
- Consider forgoing an off-site evening celebration and instead host a breakfast/lunch event on-site and close the office early. Employees will appreciate getting to leave earlier in the day and the timing eliminates problems that can arise with a late-night party when alcohol is served.
- Establish policies for the party and clearly communicate them to both management and employees. Such policies should emphasize moderation and good judgment. Remind employees that while the holiday party is meant to celebrate their contributions from the past year, the event is still a business function and inappropriate behavior may result in discipline.
- Think carefully before sponsoring gift exchanges. Not everyone can afford buying a gift to share, and not everyone has the same sense of humor, so gag gifts can pose problems. Instead, consider a charitable donation, a cookie bakeoff or raffles, with the company providing modest gifts (selected by the HR department, of course!)

Beyond holiday parties, Brouwer suggests employers make efforts to limit religious references or activities.

"Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated in December, so employers should consider placing the focus on celebrating business successes and milestones that occurred in the past year," Brouwer said.

HOLIDY PARTY TIPS FOR EMPLOYEES

Even if a holiday work event is off-site and after hours, keep in mind that you are still at a work event. Your company's work rules, including its non-harassment policies, are still in place;  you  could be disciplined if you violate them. So don't overindulge (food or drink), which could lead to harassing or other embarrassing conduct.

Behave professionally at all times - in your dress, in your speech , in your conduct. You don't want to hurt your chances for advancement in the company once the party is over.

If invited, do try to attend at least for a while. Attendance should be voluntary, but attending can show that you appreciate the effort put into the event by your employer.

Don't turn the event into a complaint (or gossip) session about co-workers or the company - be positive and upbeat. Also, there is no need to talk all business, all the time, at such events. Talk about your family, your upcoming vacation plans, your hobbies. But be sensitive to the fact that not everyone celebrates all holidays in the same way.

Don't drink and drive. Ask your employer if arrangements have been made for transportation, and if not, make your own arrangements.

About Nemeth Law, P.C.
Nemeth Law specializes in arbitration, mediation, workplace investigations, employment litigation, traditional labor law and management consultation/training for private and public sector employers. It is the largest woman-owned law firm in Michigan to exclusively represent management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes.

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