The Chicago Employment Law Blog

Ho Ho No!?! Workplace Holiday Parties Without the Lawsuits

Ho Ho Ho? Stop with the holiday cheer! There will be no St. Nick here, mister! This isn't the Grinch talking, but a lawyer, worried about your exposure to lawsuits. Sure, company parties can be a lot of fun, but they can also put you at risk for sexual harassment, wage and overtime, and discrimination lawsuits.

If you feel that employee morale is best served by having a holiday party, and you're willing to assume the risks associated with holiday parties, here are a few tips to minimize exposure:

  • Keep it Secular - Employees come in all shapes, sizes, races, religions, genders, and ages. A Christmas party is going to appeal to certain employees, while leaving others out. The same goes for a Hanukah, Kwanza, or Eid (too late) party. Instead, consider having an "End of Year" party to celebrate your employees' fine work over the last 365 days.
  • Keep it Sober-ish - Alright, so "End of Year" parties aren't as much fun while sober. We get it. However, consider that creepy intern that sits in the corner of the office and stares at the female employees. Put a couple of drinks in him. What do you get? Sexual harassment. There's also the possibility of DUIs and other reckless behavior. If alcohol is a necessity at the party, consider putting a drink limit and providing either taxi vouchers or a hired sober driver for your employees.
  • Attendance is Not Mandatory - This is key if you have hourly wage earners and non-exempt employees. Remember our post about overtime for salaried employees? Take a peek at it. If this party is mandatory, your employees might have a claim that they should be paid for their time. Even if it is not mandatory, don't pressure employees to show up. They still might have a claim for unpaid wages if they feel that they were unofficially pressured into showing up for the sake of their job.

We don't want to ruin the fun -- but it's our job to watch your back. While office holiday parties can boost morale and provide a bonding experience for the staff, it's no longer as simple as find a room, add a keg, have a happy holiday. Employers should prepare properly to avoid putting employees in uncomfortable situations.

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