The trend is to move away from holiday parties.  Some companies are opting for a family picnic in the summer instead, or a party in January after the holiday season is over.  If your company is still planning a holiday party this season, given the heightened attention to harassment issues, here are some tips to consider:


Explain to management that they are “on duty”:

  • They must watch drinking and related behavior
  • Remember professional boundaries
  • No touching (preferably even when dancing)
  • Do not drive employees home after the party
  • Do not “after-party” with staff
  • Use the “mom test” (i.e. if you wouldn’t do/say it to your mom or
    in front of your mom, then don’t do/say it)

Remind employees that you want them to have fun, but:

  • Normal standards of conduct still apply
  • Misconduct at or after the party will lead to disciplinary action
  • Drink responsibly
  • No marijuana (even if legal)
  • Encourage designated drivers (provide a gift) or ride sharing

For everyone:

  • Follow my “one wine, one water” rule (it is hard to get drunk if you drink a full glass or two of water between every alcoholic drink)
  • No dirty dancing
  • No sleep-overs after the party (or couch surfing)
  • And for goodness sake, please don’t hang mistletoe!

I was in the middle of drafting this post about workplace holiday celebrations when the horrific news came in about the mass shooting at a San Bernadino, California workplace holiday party.  While the government investigates and determines whether a workplace dispute served as a potential motive in this case, this tragedy may place a pall over other workplace holiday celebrations.  Before yesterday’s incident, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported here that there will be fewer Company-sponsored holiday parties this year.  Whether budget-constraints or fear of liability contributed to the decline in office holiday parties, only two-thirds of workers will get to partake.  That number could decline in light of safety concerns following the San Bernadino shooting.

Companies choosing to maintain the tradition should consider the following:23798385_s

1) Ensure appropriate payment for non-exempt employees if attendance at a holiday event is mandatory.

2) Avoid religious decorations, rituals or menu items as employees may be entitled to reasonable accommodations based on a sincerely held religious belief.

3) Communicate the dress code for the party-and perhaps reiterate what is acceptable under the company’s policy.

4) Reduce alcohol-related risks. Companies may want to limit alcohol consumption by utilizing a drink ticket system, limiting the “open bar,” or providing activities or other entertainment to take the focus off drinking. Have a plan in place to prevent intoxicated employees from driving themselves home.

5) Ditch the mistletoe, dance contests or other sexually-charged activities to avoid behavior contrary to the sexual harassment policy.  If you don’t have a policy in place, now’s a good time to think about one.

6) Give back to those less fortunate with a charitable focus to a holiday celebration. In lieu of a traditional party, consider serving meals or packing boxes at a local shelter or other engaging in another fun, group activity to foster bonding at this time of year.