Tuesday, 2 December 2014

How to Make the Holiday Season Happy (and not get sued or fired in the process)

With the festive season kicking into high gear, you can't avoid crowded mall parking lots, the frantic search for the "perfect" gift, nor those well-worn holiday tunes playing virtually everywhere.  And you also may not be able to avoid the office Christmas party.  Whether you're the host employer or an attendee, there are a number of rules that everyone ought to keep in mind.


If you'll be hosting a gathering for employees, think about ways to reduce the risks commonly associated with the sometimes dangerous combination of people and alcohol.  Consider some or all of the following:
  • In advance of the party, communicate to employees that drinking and driving and other inappropriate behaviour will not be permitted (albeit in a tactful way).  Encourage them to bring a designated driver and/or let them know that taxis will be made available, free of charge  (both to and from the party venue, if possible).
  • Have your party hosted by a restaurant, hotel or convention centre that has its own trained staff to serve alcohol and monitor consumption.  They'll also have their own insurance.
  • Limit the flow of free drinks.  Offer a limited number of drink tickets per person, and only offer a cash bar thereafter.  Try to watch for 'ticket-hoarding' or sharing of tickets.  If alcohol continues to be served after the meal, ensure that food is also being offered.
  • Ensure that the bar has sufficient non-alcoholic alternatives on hand and that staff bring them to the attention of guests.
  • Give an incentive for designated drivers - provide gift cards or other tokens of appreciation to those who identify as a "DD" upon arrival at the party.
  • Provide taxi/limo chits to your guests - better yet if you can provide two-way transportation both to and from the party.  Once an employee shows up with a vehicle, it may be harder to convince them to go home in a cab.
  • Be watchful - despite all of the steps above, stay on alert to identify any guest who may have over-consumed.  Take whatever measures you can to prevent anyone from driving under the influence.

Having a few drinks with colleagues can add to the seasonal celebration, but don't lose track of where you are:  an event sponsored by your employer.  Everyone is there to have fun, but make sure you don't have TOO MUCH fun.
  • Plan ahead.  If you know that alcohol will be served and you're uncertain if transportation is being provided, ask the employer.  If all else fails, ensure that you plan a safe ride home for you (and your significant other, if they're invited).  Pre-book a taxi or car service , or find out if someone intends to be a DD and can give you a ride home.
  • Even if the employer is providing an open bar, you are responsible to ensure that you don't become intoxicated.  Be your own liquor control board.  Alcohol may bring out behaviours that you will regret later.
  • Remember that the company's policies regarding personal conduct still apply. Even if the party seems like the perfect opportunity to air your grievances from the preceding year, it's not.  This is a celebratory occasion. Avoid 'talking shop' if you can, and focus on your co-workers' plans for the holidays. 
  • Tread carefully if you're thinking of pursuing an office romance at the company Christmas party.  Alcohol may lead you to misconstrue social cues turning flirtation into something more sinister.  The rules against sexual harassment still apply.
  • Be careful what you post!  It's all-too-tempting to snap pictures of your colleagues after a few drinks and post them to social media, but think about the ramifications - for your co-workers and yourself. People's reputations may be damaged by inappropriate photos on Facebook, and your judgment could be called into question for posting them. Wait until the next day to post items about the party to ensure you don't hurt yourself or others. 
At the end of the day, exercising some common sense and good judgment will go a long way to avoiding what could be a very costly hang-over!

Do you have questions about the risks as an employer in being a 'social host'?  Need guidance on planning for party season?  Contact Lance Ceaser for expert advice.

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