Ringing in Risk Free Festivities

Compliance cornerSome companies are “Christmas companies” and others are “holiday companies”. However your organization chooses to celebrate this season, here are tips to minimize your risk and maximize the cheer.

Easy on the cocktails

In today’s culture of in-office beer taps and wine bars, if you have an on-site holiday gathering, be prepared to have extra precautions in place. First and foremost, designate a responsible member of management to monitor alcohol consumption.  If your event includes guests and/or families, ensure you are not serving alcohol to minors.

Offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages as well. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 14 million Americans (1 in every 13 adults) abuse alcohol or are alcoholics. The holidays are a stressful time and can lead to relapse, don’t create added pressure by making alcohol the focus of the festivities.

Many companies choose to host their holiday gatherings off-site to minimize their liability for serving alcohol and choose to have employees pay for their own drinks. If you decide to offer alcoholic beverages on-site, consider implementing these additional safeguards:

  • Verify liability coverage with your insurance carrier
  • Hire a professional bartender trained to recognize the signs of intoxication, or an employee being overserved
  • Limit drink selections to wine and beer
  • Provide a limited number of drink tickets per employee and/or a cash bar
  • Serve food
  • Stop serving alcoholic drinks an hour before the festivities end
  • Offer a car service or company discounts for ride services such as Uber or Lyft

Absolutely no mistletoe

A more casual social setting and a cocktail or two can lead to employees letting their guard down. In about 30% of my harassment and wrongful conduct investigations alcohol has impacted an employee’s behavior at a company event. Many human resource professionals have heard revelers bemoan the arrival of HR at company festivities declaring the “fun is over.”  The presence of HR and your leadership team should be welcome to make sure every employee enjoys the event and feels comfortable.

If hosting an event off-site, remind employees that they are representing the company and should do so in the best light possible. In today’s instant culture, employees may be tempted to take pictures or videos of embarrassing moments during the company party and share them. Keep your social media policy in mind and be prepared to address posts right away.

Offer something for everyone

The holidays are a busy time for your employees. Consider a holiday celebration that offers flexibility for employees at all stages of life. A gathering that offers both social interaction for adults and games and craft stations for kids can be a win-win. Employees do not have the added expense and pressure of finding child-care during the busiest time of the year. As an employer you will have less conduct concerns because employees tend to drink less and keep their behavior in check when attending events with their family. If your organization has a philanthropic spirit, incorporate it into your holiday planning. A toy, food or clothing drive can create a unified purpose for your employee group.

Covid considerations

We would all like the pandemic to be over, but unfortunately it continues to linger. Keep employee concerns in mind when planning and hosting your festivities. Some workplaces have continuously been on-site, others have recently returned, and some are still in a hybrid setting. Do what works for you and your culture. Maybe it’s a series of smaller gatherings instead of one large event this year.  Consider offering virtual celebrations if you have multiple locations and employees do not want to travel for the annual holiday gathering. The key here is creativity, flexibility, and offering employees options that work for them and their families.

Communicate your expectations

Make sure company expectations for employee conduct is known in advance of your event. The best approach is to communicate that your holiday festivities are optional, but work policies and expectations still apply if an employee elects to attend. If you do choose to make your event mandatory, keep in mind wage and hour requirements do apply.  Communication with your leadership team is critical. They should set the example at the event and be on the lookout and ready to step in to address issues that might arise during your event.

While it might seem like all of this compliance can put a damper on the holiday season, a non-compliant event could be far worse than finding coal in your stocking Christmas morning.

The HR Elements team wishes you and yours a very Happy Holiday season.


Executive Consultant, Sara Mills Klein, JD.  Sara uses her expertise to help HR executives and business owners navigate compliance issues.  Providing the latest in legislative updates, Sara has the unique ability to distill and share information in a way that we can all understand.  Sara has over 20 years of experience as human resource executive and legal advisor.