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It is that time of year again – Holiday Party Season! What’s a party without alcohol, and what’s a law blog without a curmudgeon preaching moderation and reasonableness? (Paramount Pictures’ 2016 trailer for Office Christmas Party shows just how out of control these parties can get!)
We all know the dangers of drinking and driving. Even if an employer can escape legal liability for the drunken actions of an employee, no company wants the public relations black eye or the moral guilt that will surely follow. Employers should take steps to limit consumption of alcohol at the holiday party. Employers may wish to have a cash bar or require employees to use a limited number of tickets to “purchase” drinks. Employees should be discouraged from giving their drink tickets away to coworkers. The company should hire professional bartenders and instruct them to require identification from guests who do not look substantially over 21 and to refuse to serve and to report any guest who the bartender feels has “enjoyed one too many.” Employers should also arrange free transportation home for any employee who cannot or should not drive. Services are available that will not only drive the employee home but also his or her car. Many companies are even paying for Uber of Lyft event codes that their employees can use to get home safely.
A little alcohol may be just the courage a would-be sexual harasser needs to proposition, kiss, or touch a coworker. In advance of the party, the employer should advise employees that all workplace rules of decorum apply – no groping, no kissing, no sexting. It takes seconds to upload a photo of a coworker in a compromised position to a social media website. Employers should avoid a ban on photos and selfies at the party but encourage employees to act responsibly and only post photos from the party that do not show their coworkers in a bad light. Perhaps the warning will enlighten the “poser” if not discourage the picture taker.
Even if risqué or inappropriate behavior at the holiday party does not amount to sexual harassment, it will still be the talk of the office the next day. Embarrassment or hurt feelings may result in strained work relationships or retaliation. The spillover from the holiday party may last well into the new year.
Have fun and enjoy the season but encourage employees to act responsibly. Hopefully your Christmas party will go more smoothly than the one in the movie!
*A version of this post appeared on December 1, 2015.