News Column

How to Host a Smashing Holiday Party Without Getting Sued

Dec. 10, 2012

Staff --

Christmas tree

Philippe Weiss, managing director of the Seyfarth Shaw at Work program at the Seyfarth Shaw LLP law firm in Chicago, offers six timely tips on how to throw a memorable holiday celebration for your hardworking employees without opening yourself to trouble. Best of all, he offers them free, gratis and without charge.

1. Limit liquor-fueled liability. Consider charging for drinks, imposing a maximum number of drinks, holding an afternoon event -- or even eliminating alcohol entirely. Implementing any of these steps also decreases the risk of personal injury or workplace violence at your soiree.

2. Seek out the spouses. Many companies include spouses for common-sense reasons. For one thing, they can temper the worst troublemakers; for another, they'll be on hand to help Human Resources deal with any behavioral breaches. And ban the mistletoe while you're at it, along with party games that involve revealing personal secrets, body contortions/physical contact or any sort of disrobing, whether spouses or partners are present.

In fact, party games in general pose all sorts of unknown risks.

3. Prime the top people. Ensure that your executives "know the risks to them." Dozens of upper-level managers and corporate leaders lost their jobs over holiday party misconduct.

An executive briefing that sufficiently "scares the C-suite" and ensures they set the tone of the bash is well worth the time and money.

4. Discipline the days after. Follow up and investigate any allegations of party-related misconduct, even minor infractions, just as you would if the incident occurred during the "normal" 9-5 workday. Remember, your company party is a company event.

Always use an appropriate, thorough and effective H.R.-driven investigation process and watch for possible retaliation against those who had the courage to complain or assist in the fact-finding.

5. Clarify the rules of conduct. Conduct-related rules and policies or plain-talk reminders should be given to everyone before the event. If possible, the messages should come from the top, after a vetting by H.R. or your compliance team.

6. Educate effectively. Confirm that you have conducted comprehensive, high impact conduct and harassment-prevention training within the last few months.

One way to ensure that your training meets muster is to check that it has been reviewed, evaluated and cited for its impact in the context of actual federal consent decrees. If you have not deployed such training recently, plan to do so in 2013. The best forward-looking defense is a commitment to train and to do it right.

But do remember that the object is to celebrate. Decorations, food and a few words of appreciation go a long way to boost company morale. Remember, happy employees are productive employees.

Source: (c) 2012. All rights reserved.

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