As the year winds down, we find ourselves in the middle of another holiday season. For many Americans it is a time steeped in tradition and festivity. In addition to family celebrations and time with friends, December also brings many company activities. For example, many companies organize holiday parties, decorate their offices, host parties or even set-up secret gift exchanges among coworkers. Usually these events are organized with good intentions in hopes of fostering a fun work environment. In truth, such activities can be a huge “win” by offering opportunities to celebrate the successes of the year, building community within the workplace, and growing a strong reputation. Many employers, however, do not realize that there are also some potential risks involved with observing holiday festivities.
While you don’t have to cancel the holiday fun, there are several issues employers should proactively watch and plan for during this holiday season.
Party Planning. While holiday parties are festive (and should be), each one holds a minefield of potential embarrassment, regrettable behavior, and, in worst case scenarios, discrimination and harassment lawsuits. Employers can safeguard against these claims in many ways. For example, it might be wise to send a memo to employees before the holidays reminding them that the company’s dress and behavior codes – and harassment policies – still apply to an off-site, after hours, company-sponsored event. Examples of bad party etiquette usually stem from too much free alcohol and include things like the odd lewd remark, an offensive joke or inappropriate touching. These can all lead to complaints of sexual harassment or misconduct.
It’s important to note that mandatory holiday parties are considered work, so you can be held responsible for any injuries at the party. Make sure your business insurance will cover any injuries sustained during holiday events. Employers should also be aware of the potential for accidents and liability and take reasonable steps to avoid them.
Additional Time Off. The holiday season can also upend issues related to time off. As employees take extra time off to shop and prepare for the holidays, problems might arise from long lunches, leaving early, and arriving late. While there is no need to be a Scrooge, employers might want to take this opportunity to note the importance of timekeeping. Make sure everyone is treated equally and consistently to avoid any misunderstandings or possible discrimination.
As an employer, you might also find yourself dealing with issues of conflicting holiday requests from staff. Strive to balance holiday requests against the operational needs of your business. Staff will have to accept that they can’t all take the same time off!
Religious Sensitivity. There is no way around the fact that, for many, the holidays are rooted in religious traditions. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are all reasons to celebrate. But, keep in mind that not everyone observes those traditions. For example, Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in those celebrations. Employers would be wise to consider various options to minimize hard feelings. Make sure that gift giving and holiday parties are voluntary in nature so that those who choose to abstain from celebrating for religious or cultural reasons are not made uncomfortable. Also, employers should be conscious of religious symbols or phrases in the workplace.
Don’t let the worries of liabilities or risk keep you from enjoying the season! You can celebrate without overstepping the boundaries. By ensuring that some of these eventualities have been considered and prepared for, everyone can relax a bit as the year winds down.