Preventing HR Headaches at Office Parties

Planning for office parties is not for the faint of heart. Not only are you trying to organize an event that will be fun for all (not an easy feat), you also have to think about all the landmines that could potentially put your company at risk.

Yes, we know. Typical HR, taking the fun out of everything. But hear us out, because we might just save you some serious trouble.

For example, let’s look at the annual holiday office party. It’s the perfect opportunity to thank employees for their contributions over the last year, bond, share a drink and some food and relax.

However, if a glass turns into a bottle, the party can be (and often is) a recipe for disaster with consequences far beyond the next-day hangover. Here are a few tips to prevent your office parties from becoming epic for all the wrong reasons:

Here, There, Anywhere

People often assume that if you’re not physically at your workplace, it’s not a work-related function. This is not a smart assumption to make. Whether they take place in the office or elsewhere, office parties are most certainly considered an extension of the workplace. This means that employers may be held liable for any incidents that occur.

Similarly, your job role extends to off-site events. As a business owner, manager, supervisor, etc., you are never really “off duty;” you’re held to the same level of responsibility and standards of behavior whether it’s 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. If an employee at the party is behaving inappropriately toward a co-worker, you don’t get to ignore it just because it’s after hours.

Take steps ahead of the event to establish this concept for those attending the party. Along with details such as dress code, time and venue, provide employees with a gentle reminder that an office party is an extension of the workplace. Inappropriate behavior, unwanted conduct and unorthodox use of company property will be dealt with in the same way it would as if it took place during work hours.

Don’t Forget About Me!

Remember to consider the diverse needs of your employees when planning office parties. Celebrations must be non-discriminatory, and this can relate to anything from the theme of the party to the timing of the event. It’s best to avoid themes based on nationality or religions, and make sure that no department meetings or significant holidays coincide with your event date and time. Food and drink options should take vegetarian and vegan requirements into account.

Additionally, don’t forget to invite employees who are on leave, work part-time or serve as interns. You might not see them as much as your current full-time staff, but they still contribute to the success of your organization. So make sure they’re included!

Finally, make it clear that office parties are truly voluntary. You might think everyone would want an excuse to celebrate, but people might have their own (personal) reasons to avoid these gatherings. It’s supposed to be fun, not forced labor. There’s no need to make someone feel bad because they stay home.

Planning Ahead to Avoid a Scene… or Worse

While it’s hard to stop employees from over-indulging, it’s important to do what you can to reduce the possibility. Too much of a good thing can cause more than a disruptive scene at your event; guests who’ve had a lot to drink could become sick or cause an accident on the way home.

Limit the amount of alcohol at the party, provide non-alcoholic options and supply enough food to help minimize this risk. Remind your attendees that Uber and Lyft are available with a couple of taps on the phone, so there is no excuse for an impaired employee driving home. You might even pay for the fare home and to retrieve their car the next day. It’s worth every penny to make sure employees get home safe.

Assign a Hall Monitor

While everyone else is having a good time, someone needs to act as the hall monitor to stop any issues before they start. Usually your HR staff will take on this role, but in your company it may be someone else in leadership (or perhaps multiple people). Your hall monitors will make sure the party stays in control, defuse and deflect any issues that arise, and ensure that employees get a safe ride home.

Act Swiftly to Address Issues

Ideally, you should deal with inappropriate behavior at office parties as it happens. Since we’re not omnipresent beings, however, sometimes you’ll have to handle complaints after the fact. In the event that an incident has occurred and a complaint has been made, deal with it fairly and swiftly. Never dismiss a complaint as “nothing” or “innocent fun.” Investigations should be conducted professionally and thoroughly.

As an employer, you’re responsible for how your employees behave around (and toward) each other. Failure to respond promptly to issues could result in an additional complaint against the company for discrimination. So make sure your resolution process is responsive, comprehensive and fair.

Gentle Policy Reminders

The party planning period is also a good time to review your policies and procedures to make sure your business is covered in the event of serious incidents. Provide reminders to your employees about discrimination, bullying and harassment, drug and alcohol misuse, and expectations for appropriate behavior and etiquette at company events.

As with a positive company culture, well-planned office parties make everyone feel welcome. Taking these steps now will allow you to relax (a little, anyway) when you celebrate later. And your human resources department or an HR consultant can provide great insight on planning festive and inclusive social events.

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a James Moore professional. James Moore will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.