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Jingle & Mingle: Planning Your 2021 Office Holiday Party

With the delta variant still around and the possibility of new variants on the way, many companies continue to delay their return to the office. Even with the holidays now upon us, there is an understandable hesitancy towards getting together in crowds again.

In 2020 many people were isolated and unable to celebrate the end of the year together at holiday parties. With the end of 2021 in sight and thoughts of celebrations and gifts coming into play, companies must ask themselves whether they should move forward with their traditional holiday work parties, amid the pandemic. It is not an easy decision to make, as year-end parties are usually a company’s way of rewarding all of their employees for all their hard work. But given the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic, employee health and safety is a greater priority than ever.

The reality is that hosting large parties and brushing off masks and social distancing can have serious consequences. As our reactions to COVID-19 continue to change and evolve and affect our day-to-day lives, many companies are left unsure of how to proceed. Safety should be your number one goal! Some precautions that need to be considered to comply with CDC recommendations include:

  • Plan an outdoor event to minimize potential COVID-19 transmission rates. If you are not able to host an outdoor event and you choose to host an indoor event, avoid crowded, poorly ventilated, or fully enclosed indoor spaces.

  • Enforce and respect social distancing measures/maintain a 6-foot distance from others

  • Require a face covering unless actively eating or drinking

  • Provide hand sanitizing stations throughout the event space

  • Conduct health screenings for symptoms as a condition for entering the event

Besides the COVID-19 issues that must be addressed, employers should also think about other potential liabilities that could accompany your holiday party. Here are some steps companies can take to protect both the company and your employees:

  • Limit the hours. Start the event right after work so employees do not have the chance to pre-party before they arrive. (The party should also be limited to about three hours to avoid letting any guest become intoxicated.)

  • Limit the alcohol. Although this might sound obvious, many people do not know what limiting alcohol looks like at a party. While completely nixing alcohol at your party will minimize a lot of risk, employers do not have to go that far to reduce liability. One idea is to hire professional bartenders or work with your vendor to set parameters for serving alcohol. Employers may choose to host a cash bar where employees purchase the alcohol. A cash bar can reduce consumption and can reduce the risk of a claim that the employer directly provided alcohol to employees, or, alternatively, employees could receive one or two tickets to redeem for drinks.

  • Provide rides. Employers should think about ways to get their employees home safely. Arrange for designated drivers or work out an arrangement with a car service to offer discounted rates to all employees. Even if you do not plan to or want to provide a car service, do not think twice about calling and paying for one if an intoxicated employee plans to drive himself home. From a cost-benefit point of view, the car service fee may be the best money your company has ever spent.

  • Communicate expectations ahead of time. Send an office-wide memo a few days before the party to let employees know you look forward to a fun party and reminding them that it is still a work setting in which they are expected to exhibit decorum and professionalism. This memo should also include the company’s policies on harassment as well as the dress code.

  • Do more than serve food and drinks. Planned activities can keep guests from making constant trips to the bar and can keep a party from spinning out of control.

Happy Holidays and if you have any questions PMP is here to help!


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