Don't let your office party start a lawsuit
National employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw has six quick tips for companies to help minimize risk and liability as the holiday season comes into full swing and corporate parties are being planned. They were prepared by Philippe Weiss, managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, the firm's compliance services and training division.
Consider having no alcoholic drinks, charging for drinks, imposing a maximum number of drinks, or holding an afternoon event. (Any combination of these steps also dramatically decreases the risk of personal injury or workplace violence at your soiree.)
Many companies include spouses for common-sense reasons. They can temper the worst troublemakers and HR needs all the help it can get in monitoring for any potential behavioral breaches. Whether or not spouses come, ban the mistletoe as well as party games that involve revealing personal secrets, or require body contortions/physical contact or any sort of disrobing. In fact, party games in general pose all sorts of unknown risks.
Ensure that your executives "know the risks to them." Dozens of upper level managers and corporate leaders have lost their jobs over holiday party misconduct. An executive briefing to remind them that they set the example may be well worth the time and money.
Follow up and investigate any allegations of party-related misconduct, even minor infractions, just as you would if the incident occurred during the regular 9-5 workday. Remember, your company party is a company event. (Always use an appropriate, thorough and effective HR-driven investigation process and watch for possible retaliation against those who had the courage to complain or assist in the fact-finding.)
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 preview/vetting by HR or your compliance team.
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 companys holiday office party is typically one of the best occasions for employees to come together. Unfortunately, however, its also an event that can at times bring out the worst in some attendees, which can lead to animosity or even lawsuits. [Images: Thinkstock]