It used to be quite simple for employers to host holiday celebrations for their employees. Not so any longer. If you have just survived the ghosts and goblins of Halloween without incident, consider yourselves fortunate and plan for the coming holiday season. (The dangers of inappropriate Halloween costumes and ghoulish behaviors in the workplace are the subject for another time!)
Nine of ten employers surveyed recently reported they plan to sponsor a holiday celebration of some type this year. Common types of misconduct at such holiday gatherings include excessive drinking, inappropriate jokes, religious insensitivity, crude language, and sexual advances, just to name a few. Legal claims continue to arise as result of such misconduct, despite the best intentions of employers.
Here are a few suggestions that may help reduce unfortunate incidents:
- Keep in mind that not all employees celebrate Christmas. Respect the religious traditions of all employees in the workplace. Begin early, and solicit employee input as part of the event planning.
- Make sure that participation in all holiday activities, including charitable service projects, is voluntary.
- Find ways to include employees who may not work at the corporate office (such as outside sales people based in different states or in smaller satellite offices).
- Remind employees that the company dress code and harassment policies apply, even when such gatherings are not held on company property.
- If possible, do not serve alcohol. If you do have alcohol, hire a bartender and a taxi service. Also serve food to slow the entry of alcohol in the bloodstream. Companies may be liable for injuries their intoxicated employees cause.
- Never hang mistletoe! (Enough said.)
- Companies who have recently laid off employees or who are still in the middle of cutbacks should reconsider a lavish party. A small gift for each employee or a simple celebration will be far more appreciated and consistent with the sacrifices employees have been asked to make during the year. Consider alternatives such as a company luncheon or potluck, a gift exchange, or an activity such as a movie.
- Remember that accidents arising from such celebrations may be covered incidents under Workers’ Compensation and should be reported.
- Don’t assume that the holiday festivities will make up for poor treatment throughout the year. Regularly communicate your appreciation to employees for their work. Include employees in decision making that impacts them. Foster a culture of respect in your workplace. Provide frequent recognition opportunities. Consider smaller, more frequent celebrations instead of just an annual bash.
Keeping these cautions in mind, employers can still find creative and meaningful ways to celebrate the holiday season. Several years ago, the CEO of a large local call center dressed up as Santa and brought food and gifts to the employees working throughout the night on Christmas Eve. Those employees likely will never forget that meaningful expression of warmth and appreciation.
Carol Nibley, SPHR
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