EntertainHR: Yippee-Ki-Yay! Best Practices for Your Holiday Party

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the first frost has turned to the first snow (at least here in the Upper Midwest), and Michigan has beaten Ohio State (again), the transition to holiday season is underway, and everyone can resume their favorite December debate. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not:  a) should adults receive gifts from Santa (depends on the age of your kids), or b) how long should someone be dating their significant other before inviting them to a family gathering (no less than three months), or c) should I stay in or go out on New Year’s Eve (100% in).

die hard Christmas party
Die Hard (Courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Rather, the most polarizing debate this time of year, over which the pundits have been arguing for 35 years, which has divided families and destroyed relationships, is whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie (yes, yes, yes).

I love Die Hard.  It’s tradition in our house to watch it every Christmas Eve (for those asking, we watch Love Actually the following night).

I think that Hans Gruber, hands down, is the best movie villain in the history of cinema. Alexander Godunov set the bar for best ballet dancer turned natural born killer. And Bruce Willis was cheated out of an Academy Award for best actor (no offense to Dustin Hoffman, but Rainman? I can think of fifteen better performances of his).

That’s not to say that there aren’t some cringey parts that “haven’t held up,” perhaps none as unintentionally funny as the Christmas party (incidentally, what employer holds its holiday party on Christmas Eve; not the best way to drive attendance).

From the cheesy speech by Joe Nakatomi about how great the company performed over the past year (followed by the fakest cheer in movie history) to the 1980’s driven career woman Holly Gennaro McClane who refused to celebrate with her colleagues before faxing that last document to the two unnamed extras hooking up in the bosses’ office to Harry Ellis’ “nose candy.” The only thing missing was employees taking pictures of their bare bums on the Xerox copier. 

But provided that you are not hiding $640 million in negotiable bearer bonds, making your business ripe for a terrorist attack, what are best practices for employers who would like to celebrate the holidays without a resulting human resources investigation.

Consider the following:

  • Host at the office. Holding the party at the office is a constant, if not subtle, reminder that this is a place of work, where there are rules and a sense of decorum. 
  • Schedule the party to start close to the end of the work day. Sure, productivity may not be as great as other days.  But it limits the amount of pre-partying and overserved employees.  And avoid weekends, where there is no control over where your employees have been for the previous eight hours.
  • Set and stick to an end time. While there is nothing you can do about a post-party pub crawl, the official office party (and the employer’s potential liability) will have ended by then. 
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Whether it is providing drink tickets (ideally two, max three) or asking the bartenders to water down drinks/avoid heavy pours/abstain from serving shots, employees should not treat an office party like a fraternity party.  Employers also may consider limiting the beverage selection to beer and wine.
  • Have party games and contests. Ugly Christmas sweaters, karaoke, dance offs, grab bags/Secret Santas are festive in their own right.  They also are a way for your employees to have fun without making regular visits to the bar.
  • Invite spouse and significant others. Every year, employment attorneys receive calls from clients about sexual harassment allegations that occurred at holiday parties.  Wives/husbands/boyfriends/girlfriends are a great deterrent for those overtaken by the spirit of the season.
  • Provide transportation home. Sure, this may be cost prohibitive at larger workplaces or where employees live great distances from work.  But paying for an Uber or a shuttle will be significantly cheaper than a DUI/accident.
  • Tell leaders to lead. Having expectations that your directors, managers, and supervisors will be role models in a company sponsored party is appropriate.  And warranted.  On the flipside, employees that see their leaders acting sophmoric will believe that they too do not need to act their age.
  • Don’t be afraid to establish and publicize guidelines in advance. There is nothing wrong with sending an email reminding employees that, at the end of the day, this is a work function which is supposed to be fun.  But it is still a WORK function.

While these tips cannot stop thirteen uninvited Eastern European terrorists from crashing your party (and if they do, here’s hoping that an out-of-jurisdiction New York cop, with or without shoes, also has been invited), the hope is that you can provide a forum where employees can responsibly let their hair down and enjoy the camaraderie of their colleagues in a festive environment, all while reducing potential liability and exposure shortly after the start of the New Year.

Happy Holidays, stay safe, and enjoy.

Rob Entin is a Partner at FordHarrison.

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