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Oh, What Fun It Is To Be HR-Compliant At The Holidays!

Planning a company party this December? Holiday parties have long been a popular way to reward staff for their hard work throughout the year. But when a party includes alcohol, employers undertake certain risks. For example, employers can be subject to liability for accidents caused by inebriated employees – in some jurisdictions, that includes accidents that  occur after the party has ended. For another example, alcohol’s loosening of inhibitions can open the door to sexual harassment, even from employees who would never engage in such behavior while sober.

Below are some steps employers and their HR departments can take to minimize those risks and still enjoy a festive celebration with staff.

  1. Limit the availability of alcohol.

Instead of offering an open bar throughout the party, consider taking steps to keep the alcohol from flowing quite so freely. Offering each employee one or two drink tickets is one way to discourage excessive drinking. Having the open bar convert to a cash bar after a given period of time is another option.

  1. Do not serve minors.

It is vital that employers ensure that the venue and/or vendors serving alcohol take the laws prohibiting serving alcohol to minors very seriously. There can be no room for error when it comes to serving guests under 21 years old. Employers should also communicate to any minor employees prior to the party that sneaking “sips” from others’ glasses, attempting to use a fake ID, or any other method of obtaining alcohol at the party will subject them to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

  1. Arrange for transportation home.

Even with the most well-intentioned efforts in place to limit guests’ alcohol consumption, it is inevitable that some guests will be over the limit when they leave the party. For that reason, employers should always arrange for transportation options, such as a car or taxi service. Offering these options at the company’s expense, and ensuring that employees feel fully welcome to use them, will go a long way toward preventing driving under the influence.

  1. Serve plenty of food.

Alcohol should always be accompanied by food. Even if no dinner is being served, cocktails should always be accompanied by plenty of snacks and appetizers. Allowing employees to drink on an empty stomach is a sure recipe for disaster.

  1. Review sexual harassment policies prior to party.

The relaxed, informal atmosphere of a party, combined with the inhibition-lowering effects of alcohol, can lead some people to make comments or engage in conduct that would normally be out of character. Specifically, an employee who, in an inebriated state, thinks (or tells himself) that he is “innocently flirting” with a colleague may actually be making unwelcome, sexually charged comments that make the colleague uncomfortable, or worse. With the rash of sexual harassment reports in the news recently, it is not difficult to imagine how easily this can happen at any company, with any group of co-workers. Guard against this by reviewing the company’s sexual harassment policy in the days prior to the party with all employees, including management.

By adhering to the above guidelines, you can make your company’s holiday party a safe, fun celebration for all. Happy holidays from all of us at PMP!

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