Holiday parties can be a perfect opportunity to allow your employees to get together in a stress-free environment to celebrate the seasonal festivities along with their achievements over the past year. However, a lot more goes into a company holiday party than just picking a venue and buying some food and drinks. When done properly, company holiday parties have the ability to cultivate employee engagement, make employees feel more appreciated by their employer and give employees something fun to look forward to during the chaotic holiday season. However, employers still have to manage employee behaviors and expectations during holiday parties too.

Most people have heard holiday party stories of employees who had a little too much to drink at the holiday party and behaved inappropriately. Even if the company holiday party is not held in the workplace and employees are not on the clock, certain behaviors can still create HR issues that can quickly escalate into legal trouble for the employer. 

In order to avoid the potential legal disaster that a company holiday party can turn into, employers should include their HR professional in the party planning to provide some basic rules for employees to follow while in attendance. Below are some tips for an HR-friendly holiday party.

  • Ensure inclusion, but not obligation. For any non-work-related company event that occurs outside of normal work hours, attendance should be optional. Many employees will have valid reasons for not wanting to or being able to attend the festivities. Requiring employees to attend holiday parties that occur outside of normal work hours can create legal issues, especially non-exempt employees, who may not only be entitled to their regular pay for mandatory attendance, but possibly overtime pay as well. Employers should consider including a note in their holiday party invitations to let employees know that attendance is optional, so there’s no confusion.
  • Don’t make alcohol the main draw. One of the biggest liabilities at any holiday party is the provision of alcohol to guests. Serving alcohol without liquor liability coverage open the party host up to some legal trouble. For example, if an employee leaves the party after drinking too much, gets into an accident and injures someone, the employer could be liable. An open bar can also give some employees the “liquid courage” to behave inappropriately and create harassment issues, too. Furthermore, employees who don’t drink alcohol at all may feel uncomfortable around excessive drinking. Employers may want to consider limiting alcohol consumption through the use of drink tickets, or just skipping alcohol entirely.
  • Have a clear objective in mind when planning. Yes, even the holiday party should have some kind of clear goal or purpose. For example, if the main objective is to encourage team-building, there should be some kind of organized activity to get the employees working together and having fun. If employee appreciation is the goal, some kind of speech or award presentation should be included in the event. Not having a goal or any kind of schedule planned for the party can give employees too much room to make their own fun – which could end up going in a bad direction.

Holiday parties are a fun and festive way to spread cheer throughout your organization and celebrate your employees at the end of another successful year. Knowing the liabilities before planning your company holiday party is the best way to keep both your employees and your business safer this holiday season.

About Emplicity:
Since 1995, Emplicity has provided a smarter, more secure, and integrated platform of employer services to its 300 business clients and their 8,500 employees. As a Professional Employer Organization, or PEO, the California-based HR outsourcing firm simplifies the compliance, administration, and support businesses need in the areas of employee benefits, payroll, and human resources technology.

For more information about us, visit or call us at (877) 476-2339. We’d love to make your employee management more simple—and secure.

NOTICE: Emplicity provides HR advice and recommendations. Information provided by Emplicity is not intended as a substitute for employment law counsel. At no time will Emplicity have the authority or right to make decisions on behalf of its clients.

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