Eat, Drink and Be Merry—Just Not Too Merry

The season of office holiday parties is upon us.  And, for an employment lawyer, it can be a business bonanza.

Few events are fraught with more peril for both employers and employees than the office holiday party.

How to minimize that peril?

For the employee, the most important thing to remember is that your office holiday party still involves your employer.  When lawyers prepare clients for depositions, we often tell them: “There is no such thing as off the record.”  The office holiday party is no different. When you attend it, you are not off the record; you still are at the office—and must behave accordingly. What does that mean? It means—

  • Not drinking too much alcohol.
  • Minding what you say and avoiding controversial topics.
  • Not touching your co-workers—even if it is just friendly and celebratory.
  • Dressing appropriately.

In this day of social media, what happens at the office holiday party does not always stay at the office holiday party—it may even “go viral.”

For the employer, the office holiday party involves different headaches.  It means making sure that employees of different faiths and with different religious beliefs are not offended.  It also means making sure that employees know that attendance is voluntary rather than mandatory. And it means paying careful attention to how to control alcohol consumption.  Controlling the flow of alcohol is important, but tricky.

Far too many employment-related lawsuits begin with an event at the office holiday party when one person drinks too much and becomes too free with either thoughts or hands.

A company can end up with a hostile-work-environment claim because of offensive remarks made after someone has had a little too much to drink.  And, in the worst cases, an employee may make a sexual harassment or assault claim after a holiday party if the employee has been grabbed or touched inappropriately.

While this is the season to celebrate, just remember there is no such thing as “off the record.”  Even if it is a party, you are still at the office.

Act accordingly.