Keep the Holidays Fun — and Liability Free
It’s almost November — and that means the end-of-year holiday marketing blitz is already in full swing. Businesses are gearing up for the season of office decorations, gift exchanges, home-baked goodies, and the company’s annual holiday party.
For employers, the holiday season can be a minefield of potential liability issues. They want to provide a fun and festive environment for employees without creating risks for the company.
Top holiday liability risks
The three biggest areas of risk for employer liability during the holiday season are diversity, harassment, and employee safety.
Diversity. Today’s workplace is more diverse than ever, encompassing employees of many different cultures, faiths, and traditions. Companies must be careful to accommodate all beliefs and not appear to favor any one faith or culture over another. Failing to do so can expose your client to the risk of discrimination lawsuits.
Harassment. The holidays can increase the likelihood of instances of harassment. Harassment can occur when alcohol is involved at a company party and employee judgment is impaired. Harassment can also happen in less obvious ways during the holidays — for example, cards and gifts that are provocative or offensive. What one employee finds humorous, another person may find offensive or even harassing.
Safety. Employee safety can be a serious issue for employers — particularly in relation to the company’s holiday party. Many states hold employers responsible for alcohol-related accidents, even if it happens on an employee’s trip home from the company party. Companies based in states that experience wintry weather must be especially vigilant about ensuring safe walkways, as slip and fall injuries that occur en route to or from a company party can present a major liability for the employer.
Tips for keeping festivities liability-free
Your clients can provide a festive environment that boosts employee morale while also mitigating liability risk, by following these common-sense practices.
- Allow reasonable religious accommodations for every employee regardless of faith or culture.
- Keep holiday decorations and events inclusive — or completely secular. Avoid referring to the company party as a “Christmas party,” and instead refer to it as a “holiday party” or “winter celebration.” With a diverse workforce, employers must exercise care to ensure that every faith is included, or opt to keep decorations and events non-religious.
- Remind employees of anti-harassment, diversity, substance use, and other relevant company policies. Make clear that your policies are applicable both in the office and at company events that may be hosted elsewhere.
- Host the company holiday party at an offsite location, use professional bartenders, and limit alcohol consumption (for example, by giving employees drink tickets). If alcohol is available at the company party, employers should take every reasonable measure to make sure potentially impaired employees have a safe ride home either with a designated driver or via a taxi.
- Avoid or reduce alcohol-related risks by making your holiday event alcohol free (for example, a workday luncheon) or holding the event in the middle of the workweek. Most employees will indulge less when they have to work the next day.
- Set reasonable guidelines for gift exchanges. Keep exchanges gender neutral, simple, and affordable for employees.
Holiday guidance from HR Academy
Want more ideas for making your workplace fun and liability free during the holidays? Attend the HR Academy webinar, “Productive (Yet Festive) Work Environments: Managing Holiday Parties, Relationships, and Office Culture,” Friday, November 7, 2014, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. PST. For more information and to register for this training, click here. Or contact HRAnswerLink on our website, by phone at (877) 882-2237, or by email.