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Dec 16, 2014
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: The holiday season is here, and TLNT is again getting into the spirit with some classic past holiday posts. Look for them until Christmas Eve.

It is that time of year again – the holiday season.

Employers are gearing up to have their office holiday parties. Many employees wait all year for the festivities and love reminiscing about the events of the previous year.

In fact, the holiday party festivities often become the “chatter” around the proverbial water cooler, and sometimes, not in a good way.

Many employers go all out and provide live music or a DJ and offer an array of appetizers, scrumptious main courses, and decadent desserts. And, of course, what holiday party is not complete without champagne, wine, or holiday punch?

But, what many employers often don’t realize is that the office holiday party they planned as a perk for employees can turn into a litigation land mine for them.

The ripple effect of holiday party fallout

At the risk of being called a Grinch, I write this post because office holiday parties bring with them a host of issues for employers and employees alike.

The ripple effect of office party fallout can be major trouble. There is a potential for lawsuits by employees against employers for sexual harassment violations, wage-and-hour violations, religious based discrimination, and social host liability.

Here are some tips for employers and employees that can help make the office holiday party a success and avoid any potential lawsuits.

And remember — the event doesn’t have to end up in litigation, for it to be remembered as the best party ever.

Tips for Employers

  • First and foremost, employers should never force employees to participate. The office festivities should be optional. Be mindful of the fact that not every employee observes the same traditions or celebrates the same holidays.
  • Employers should remind employees that office policies and procedures regarding behavior still apply. Specifically, rules regarding harassment, bullying, and professional behavior all apply while attending the holiday party, regardless of its location. Employers should immediately investigate any reported violations.
  • If the holiday party is occurring off-site, ensure that the facility is ADA compliant.
  • Most office holiday parties offer alcoholic beverages; therefore, employers should consider providing employees with taxis or shuttles.
  • NO mistletoe. It’s not cute. Employers who hang mistletoe at holiday parties are begging for a sexual harassment lawsuit.
  • If the employees are permitted to bring a “guest” to the office holiday party, the invitation should specify “guest,” not spouse. In todays’ diverse working environment, employers need to be inclusive.

Tips for Employees

  • Common sense and good judgment should not be thrown out the window when attending an office holiday party.
  • Do not consume alcoholic beverages as though you were at a college fraternity party. You don’t want to spend the next 12 months trying to live down the dance routine that was fueled by five margaritas. Refer to No. 1 above.
  • Many employees like to “dress up” in holiday attire. This does not mean fewer, tighter articles of clothing than you would normally wear amongst the same group. Remember, you do not want to be the employee that everyone is talking about the next day at the water cooler. Again, refer to No. 1 above.
  • The office holiday party is not the time or place to tell your co-worker about the long-running crush you have had on them. Don’t initiate an office romance – or worse a one-night hookup that you won’t remember – others will! It’s also not the place to confront someone about a long-running grudge you have been holding. Yes, you guessed it, refer to No. 1 above.
  • Employees should immediately report, through proper channels, any unacceptable behavior that violates company rules, policies, or procedures. The men’s room at the end of the night is not the proper channel.
  • If you are bringing a guest to the holiday party, you should discuss with your guestyour company’s policies regarding behavior. Remember, an intoxicated or “interestingly dressed” guest will surely be discussed at the water cooler. Again, refer to No. 1 above.
  • Employees should refrain from exchanging gifts with co-workers at the holiday party to avoid hurt feelings. It is certainly acceptable for employees to exchange gifts with their co-workers; however, the holiday party is not the appropriate time.
  • Smart Phones – everybody’s got one, so go by the golden rule: if the photo was of you, and you wouldn’t want it on Facebook, then don’t post it.
  • It’s OK to have a good time and relax. It’s just important to observe a little decorum. So within reason, YOLO! The office holiday party is a great time to get to know people you don’t work with on a daily basis.

This was originally published on Montgomery McCracken’s Employment Law Matters blog.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.