Each year, we feel somewhat like the grumpy HR Grinch, ready to shut down your rollicking good time this holiday season. You know, the anything goes office party where your employees leave their inhibitions at the door. The celebratory occasion that provides months of post party gossip. However, we know that this time of year can leave you with more than a headache….a lawsuit that can be very costly.
Employers continue to evaluate whether to even have that party and associated expense. We recommend you reinvent the office party concept and try something new like a lunch event, group outing to an amusement park or volunteer activity with a local charity.
And the formal party isn’t always what employees enjoy the most. At YPP, the CEO’s have cooked lunch for our employees for the last several years, and that’s been just as much fun as when we did more elaborate evening parties – and far less risky since we don’t serve alcohol. We also treat everyone to the holiday show at our local theater, PCPA.
However you choose to celebrate the holidays with your employees this year, we want you to have a bright and “HR Safe” holiday season. We have a few tips to help our employers avoid the biggest holiday party danger zones, alcohol and sexual harassment.
The following tips were prepared by the U.S. Department of Labor, Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace in an attempt to assist employers in minimizing negative consequences of alcohol consumption at their holiday parties.
- Be honest with employees. Make sure your employees know your workplace substance abuse policy and that the policy addresses the use of alcoholic beverages in any work-related situation and office social function.
- Post the policy. Use every communication vehicle to make sure your employees know the policy. Prior to an office party, use break room bulletin boards, office e-mail and paycheck envelopes to communicate your policy and concerns.
- Make sure employees know when to say when. If you do serve alcohol at an office event, make sure all employees know that they are welcome to attend and have a good time, but they are expected to act responsibly.
- Make it the office party of choice. Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available.
- Eat…and be merry! Avoid serving lots of salty, greasy or sweet foods which tend to make people thirsty. Serve foods rich in starch and protein which stay in the stomach longer and slow down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
- Designate party managers. Remind managers that even at the office party, they may need to implement the company’s alcohol and substance abuse policy.
- Arrange alternative transportation. Anticipate the need for alternative transportation for all party goers and make special transportation arrangements in advance of the party. Encourage all employees to make use of the alternative transportation if they consume any alcohol.
- Serve none for the road. Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends. Employers are encouraged to review their company policies regarding alcohol consumption and furthermore, to enforce their policies at all company celebrations.
With or without too much alcohol a holiday party or holiday events such as “secret santa” or gift exchanges can become the opportunity for sexual harassment claims. As a California employer you must know that State law forbids sexual harassment under FEHA and Government Code section 12940.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC) enforces FEHA law and has found sexual harassment to include:
- Verbal harassment, such as epithets, derogatory comments, or slurs;
- Physical harassment, such as assault or physical interference with movement or work; and
- Visual harassment, such as derogatory cartoons, drawings, or posters.
As an employer what can you do to help minimize the risk? The following tips can help you avoid holiday party harassment liability:
- Remind employees beforehand that their liability for sexual harassment applies at all times, including during the party.
- Make sure your supervisors’ sexual harassment training is up to date, and you may want to redistribute the company’s sexual harassment and substance abuse policies to everyone a week or so before the party.
- If you know or suspect someone in your organization is putting you at risk for a sexual harassment claim take steps now to address it now, don’t wait until it is too late.
YPP HR Managers can help you in planning an “HR Safe” holiday celebration. We want you to enjoy the season knowing you have done everything possible to avoid a post holiday legal hangover.