Holiday parties at work is a long-standing tradition that brings employees and management together each year to socialize and celebrate. Without some thoughtful planning and guidelines, however, holiday parties can become HR headaches, resulting in negative consequences and potentially unlawful behavior.
Here are 8 Dos and Don’ts to help ensure your office holiday party is inclusive and harassment-free:
1. Don’t call it a Christmas party
Rather than inviting employees to a Christmas party, call it a holiday party or end-of-year celebration, which makes the event inclusive for employees with diverse backgrounds, religions and beliefs. Another option is to host a gathering after the hectic holiday season. A party in January is a good opportunity to highlight last year’s accomplishments and share goals and plans for the new year.
2. Do keep it diverse and inclusive
In addition to avoiding a Christmas theme, it’s a good idea to choose decorations and activities that appeal to all employees and create an atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable and welcome. And be mindful that the holiday party invitation is sensitive to LGBTQ employees and their spouses and partners.
3. Don’t make it mandatory
Since some employees may not be comfortable attending a holiday party for religious, cultural or other reasons, make attendance optional. An after-work party may also pose a scheduling conflict or childcare issues for some employees.
4. Don’t offer unlimited alcohol
Alcohol reduces social inhibitions and impairs judgment, so if you’re serving adult beverages, limit the amount of alcohol and increase the amount of food. And be sure to offer plenty of nonalcoholic options. Workplaces that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption increase the risk of workplace harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The task force recommends that organizations train employees to intervene appropriately if they see their co-workers engage in alcohol-induced misconduct and remind managers of their responsibility to recognize and respond to harassment, including at work-related events where people are consuming alcohol.
5. Do set expectations for acceptable and unacceptable behavior
In addition to reminding employees to drink responsibly, organizations should emphasize the importance of avoiding any behavior that could lead to sexual harassment or discrimination claims. This includes inappropriate remarks, unwanted touching, sharing sexual images and videos or making offensive comments about someone’s race, religion, disability or some other personal characteristic.
6. Don’t forget about social media
Holiday parties can be a social-media nightmare if employees violate your organization’s social-media policy and post embarrassing selfies and other inappropriate content and images. Make sure your employees are familiar with your social-media policy and guidelines.
7. Do ensure employees are up to date on anti-harassment training
With the ongoing spotlight on #MeToo, it’s important to reinforce the message that your organization’s code of conduct and anti-harassment policies apply to holiday parties and other events. The holiday season is also a good time to make sure that all employees are up to date on any state sexual harassment training requirements, and other workplace conduct and culture topics, such as bystander intervention, diversity and inclusion and unconscious bias.
8. Do respond promptly to inappropriate behavior
Managers and supervisors should be aware of their responsibility to look out for inappropriate behavior at holiday parties and be prepared to intervene before a situation gets out of hand and may require disciplinary action. It’s also essential to follow up promptly on any complaints the organization may receive from employees or guests after the event.
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In spite of good intentions, the annual company holiday party can be a potential minefield for misconduct. Besides careful planning and communication, it’s important that employees understand what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and your organization’s commitment to creating a respectful, inclusive workplace during the holidays and throughout the year.