General Business

Proceed with Caution: Halloween is the Unofficial Start of the Office Party Season

Halloween is the unofficial start of the office party season. Employers who don’t want to live the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished need to manage holiday party risks by considering these suggestions:

Control Alcohol Service and Consumption

Inebriated office colleagues at a party pose a risk you don’t need and are a formula for trouble. Consider these three precautions:

  • Restrict the number of drinks permitted (through drink tickets), the type of drinks permitted (no shots and plenty of “cool” non-alcoholic options), and the time that drinking is permitted (last call prior to departure time).
  • Ensure sufficient food is available and passed around to help slow absorption.
  • Offer vouchers/paid cab rides or incentives to employees to act as designated drivers.

Maintain a Reasonable Dress Code

Whether for Halloween or December holiday parties, make sure employees are aware of your reasonable dress code expectations, and that inappropriate and overly suggestive attire is not acceptable for any office-related function.

Respect Individual Preferences

The point of the holiday party should be to celebrate and reward employees who want the celebration and reward. Reasons some employees may choose to avoid the office holiday party may include having suffered a personal loss at this time of year, general discomfort with mixing “business with pleasure, religious beliefs, another commitment that evening, or simply preferring to spend the time with family. In any case, employers must never retaliate or ostracize those uncomfortable with office parties, no matter their reason.

Adhere to Policies and Protocols (and Create Them If Needed)

Office policies and protocols apply regardless of where office personnel congregate. These policies are so important they’re worth repeating verbatim to employees and having you or your HR professional consider the following:

  • Make sure you have comprehensive, lawful workplace policies (harassment, discrimination, retaliation, complaint process, social media) in place.
  • Circulate a memo to employees prior to your holiday party reminding them of your workplace policies, that those policies apply equally to on- and off-premises parties, and that the company will not tolerate inappropriate behavior and violations of its policies.

About the Author

Michael Schmidt is the vice chair of the Labor and Employment Department and New York-Midtown office managing partner of Cozen O’Connor.

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