How to Have an Office Holiday Party Without Anyone Going to Jail

In case you haven’t noticed, the holiday season is upon us.

Every year, employers have lots of questions about what they should (and shouldn’t) do when it comes to holiday parties to avoid winding up in court (or jail). Let’s start with some interesting statistics:

  • Party on. More than 83 percent of employers are planning holiday celebration this year — a jump from last year’s rather humbug-ish 68 percent. Partying employers are still below the pre-recession high of 90 percent in 2007.
  • Who, where & when? More than half (54 percent) of employers are having employee-only parties (i.e., no spouses or significant others). Some 55 percent of parties will be on company property, and 52 percent will be during the workday.
  • Less booze. Only 48 percent will serve alcohol. That number has declined steadily in recent years — dropping more than 25 percent since 2008.
  • More or less $$$? Yes, 83 percent of employers say they are budgeting the same for this year’s party. That said, there seems to be a bit less grinchiness this year: 17 percent say they’re budgeting more with 0 percent (yes, zero percent) budgeting less.

Top 5 party tips

So, what are the latest and greatest tips for avoiding legal liability without being too much of a Scrooge? Ask and you will receive:

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  • Have a party. Lots of employees are working harder than ever. They need a little celebratin’.
  • Set expectations. Tell employees in advance what will and won’t be allowed. Remind managers to act like managers and to be on the lookout for potential misconduct.
  • Invite spouses. Doing so can help discourage bad behavior and has the side benefit of boosting good feelings about the company on the home front (unless the party’s a total dud).
  • Dump the booze. It’s risky and costly. If you don’t: (a) use tickets or some other system to limit the number of drinks; (b) use professional bartenders — not managers — to serve drinks, check IDs and monitor consumption; (c) offer lots of non-alcoholic beverages; and, (d) provide taxis, hotel rooms and/or designated drivers for employees who over-indulge.
  • Watch The Office. Rent Season 2 and watch the episode entitled “Christmas Party.” Then tune in to NBC this Thursday for a special episode entitled “Dwight Christmas.” Then do the exact opposite of everything you see.

This was originally published on Manpower Group’s Employment Blawg.

Mark Toth has served as Manpower Group North America's Chief Legal Officer since 2000. He also serves on the company’s Global Leadership Team, Global Legal Lead Team and North American Lead Team. Mark is recognized as an expert on legal issues affecting the U.S. workplace and is frequently quoted in media from The Wall Street Journal to 60 Minutes. He is also a past Chair of the American Staffing Association and is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources. Contact him at mark.toth@manpowergroup.com.

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