Ho, Ho—'Oh No!'

Some aspects of the company holiday party can be anything but festive.

December 5, 2015

“ ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, the party was roaring, and most folks were soused. Employees danced on the tables with flair, and mistletoe kisses were shared everywhere.”

Hopefully this doesn’t describe your credit union’s holiday party, but it aptly portrays some of the corporate revelry that takes place each December. When the “spirit” of the season is the kind that comes from a bottle, the party cleanup crew sometimes includes lawyers.

There are many great reasons to end the calendar year with a celebration. An event that has been carefully planned promotes team-building, goodwill, and enthusiasm. Most people love a good party—but some do not.

For starters, make it clear the occasion isn’t obligatory. Employees who choose not to attend shouldn’t be made to feel they’ll suffer consequences because of their choice.

Because holiday parties often involve references to Christmas, and music and decorations that may express Christian beliefs, you might need to issue a reminder that the dominant religion in our country isn’t the only one.

Under Title VII and most state laws, it’s unlawful to discriminate in employment on the basis of religion—even at parties. Consider ways to honor the traditions and conditions of all employees when decorating, selecting menus and music, and choosing activities.

Be inclusive, welcoming, and respectful while having fun. Do some employees need an accommodation (e.g., wheelchair ramp or elevator) to be able to attend the party?

You don’t need a legal disclaimer on the party invitation, but be mindful of your equal employment opportunity policy that says you won’t discriminate on the basis of religion, disability, race, etc.

Beverages can also brew trouble. We should all know that alcohol impairs judgment. The problem is that when you’ve had “one too many” you might forget your judgment is impaired—or no longer care that it is.

Many states have laws that impose liability on social hosts (including organizations) who serve alcohol to an intoxicated person if that person subsequently injures a third party or causes property damage while driving home from the event.

The best way to avoid this kind of liability is to avoid serving alcohol at all. But if you do serve alcohol, follow a few precautions:

Holiday parties also are notorious for harassment problems. The combination of suggestive party clothes, booze, dancing, and mistletoe is more temptation than some can bear. Your policies should specify that rules of conduct apply to any event sponsored by the credit union, including picnics and parties.

If untoward behavior is observed, be prepared to intervene and steer the offender away from the mistletoe, punch bowl, or embarrassed teller who has been asked to slow dance for the third time by a board member. Yes, even volunteers need to comply with conduct policies at the holiday party.

Social networking presents yet another challenge. Every phone seems to have a camera, and posting photos with commentary is a favorite pastime for many.

What do you do when a compromising picture of someone at your party appears on the Internet? You’ll be better equipped to deal with this problem if you have a policy about employees’ use of social networks and you make it clear that work-related photos and information may not be posted. This will help protect the privacy of employees and members, and safeguard proprietary information.

Despite the “ho ho ho’s” that abound in December, many aspects of holiday parties simply aren’t laughing matters.

This article was provided by Farleigh Wada Witt, Portland, Ore.