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'Tis the Season for Holiday Office Party Misconduct

12.25.05

Even at this time of the year when peace, joy, and generosity reign, employers are not immune from legal and morale problems that can develop from office parties gone wild.

A report by the Society for Human Resource Management reveals that 36% of employers nationwide have reported some type of employee misconduct at holiday parties.  Common complaints include excessive drinking, sexual advances, off-color and inappropriate jokes, vulgar language, and even arguments and fistfights.  When you combine that with today’s litigious work environment, employers are rightfully nervous about liability arising from the hosting of the traditional office party.  Owners, managers, and supervisors want to celebrate with their employees, but they also want to avoid having to respond to legal complaints afterwards because something at the party went wrong.  They know that it can potentially cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees and lost-productivity, not to mention an open-ended amount of damages if a legal claim against the company has merit, if things get out of hand during a holiday party. 

To keep office parties safe and sane this holiday season, Fisher & Phillips has developed a list of planning tips for employers.  These include complying with existing labor laws long before the first drink is poured.  Reviewing employee handbooks to make sure they address drug and alcohol abuse, harassment, fighting, weapons, and other forms of misconduct is also crucial.

Employers also should educate supervisors and employees about policies dealing with sexual harassment, non-discrimination, and retaliation against employees who lodge complaints.  And they should consistently discipline or discharge employees who violate established policies.

Admittedly, our clients look at us sometimes like we’re Scrooges, but keep in mind that it’s important not just to your Company, but also to the employees themselves, to provide guidelines and to avoid creating an opportunity for someone who has had too much to drink to make a choice he or she will regret later.    

That said, the following are our Holiday Office Party Tips:

For more information on this or any other labor and employment law issue, contact your Fisher & Phillips attorney or e-mail fp@laborlawyers.com.

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