Holiday Party

Celebrate the Season Safely | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

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As the holiday season approaches, the economy is humming along, unemployment is low, and companies are enjoying the fruits of corporate tax breaks. Time to celebrate? Not so fast, according to the 2018 Holiday Party Survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The survey found that just 65 percent of companies are holding holiday festivities this year, the lowest rate since the 2009 recession.

While in 2009, holiday parties were skipped for financial reasons, the 2018 causes are more complex. Andrew Challenger, VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, speculates that the two biggest factors are #MeToo and an increase in the number of remote employees.

If your company is among those celebrating the holiday season this year, what can you do to avoid liability from sexual harassment, alcohol consumption, and other categories of risk?

Risk: Harassment Allegations

  • Communicate behavior expectations to employees ahead of time. Consider using this language to set standards of conduct. You may even choose to redistribute your sexual harassment policy. Be sure to emphasize that all employee policies apply at the party, even if it is off-site or after work hours. Racial or sexual jokes, inappropriate gag gifts, gossiping about office relationships, and unwelcome touching will not be permitted during the holiday party, just as they are not allowed in the office.

  • Do not allow employees to get away with bad behavior. Remind your supervisors to set a good example and keep an eye out for employee behavior that needs managing at the event.

  • Follow up immediately on allegations of inappropriate behavior and conduct a thorough investigation of the facts, even if the alleged victim does not file a complaint and you only hear about the behavior through the grapevine. If corrective action is warranted, apply it promptly.

  • Invite significant others or families. Employee behavior tends to improve at company events when spouses or partners and children are present. If your budget allows, include the entire family in the celebration. Be sure to review your liability coverage with your broker first.

  • Avoid incidents related to relaxed inhibitions by following the tips for reducing alcohol-related risks (see below).

Risk: Alcohol-Related Incidents

  • Take steps to limit alcohol consumption. If alcohol will be served, provide plenty of food rich in carbohydrates and protein to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. You can also have a cash bar, limit the number of drink tickets, or close the bar early to deter over-consumption. Also have a good selection of nonalcoholic beverages or a tasty signature “mocktail” available. Make sure water glasses are refilled frequently.

  • Get bartenders on board. If you have underage workers or invite children of employees, be sure that servers ask for ID from anyone who looks under age 30. Ask servers to cut off anyone who appears to be intoxicated.

  • Make sure employees get home safely. Offer incentives to employees who volunteer to be designated drivers, offer to pay for ride shares or taxis, or arrange group transportation or accommodations. Planning for safe transportation can potentially minimize your liability if an employee causes an accident while driving under the influence.

  • Do not serve alcohol if your party is at the office and your policies do not permit drinking on company premises or during work hours. Deter employees from an informal after-party at a bar or restaurant where the alcohol could flow.

Risk: Workers’ Compensation Claims

  • Keep the party voluntary and social. Typically, workers’ compensation does not apply if the injury is “incurred in the pursuit of an activity, the major purpose of which is social or recreational.” If the carrier determines that the company party was truly voluntary and not related to work, you may not be liable for injuries sustained at the party.

  • Go offsite. Hosting your holiday party at an offsite location is a smart idea. Your employees will be thankful for the change in setting, and this could reduce insurance liabilities for your company, especially when it comes to third-party alcohol and injury policies.

  • Check with your broker before the party. Review your insurance policies and party plans to make sure you do everything you can to avoid risk and know how to handle any incidents that result from the party.

Risk: Perceptions of Unfairness

  • Determine how to handle pay issues in advance of the party. You’re not required to pay employees who voluntarily attend a party after hours. However, nonexempt employees need to be compensated if they are working the party or if attendance is mandatory. If the party is held during regular work hours, then all employees must be paid for attending the party.

  • Decide in advance whether and how to include remote employees, independent contractors, temporary employees, or agency workers. Be consistent in sending invitations, and if a category of workers will not be invited to the party, consider other ways to reward them for their hard work throughout the year, such as gifts.

  • Do not penalize employees who choose not to attend. The message may be misinterpreted and could create employee relations concerns. Be considerate of those who do not attend the event due to religious beliefs, sobriety, mental health issues, family obligations, child care conflicts, or any other reasons. Avoid religious symbols or themes as they could offend individuals of different faiths.

The Perks of Holiday Parties: How They’re Still an Asset to Your Company

The end of the year is upon us and a majority of companies celebrate with an end-of-year/holiday party.  Although the trend of holiday parties has diminished in recent years, it’s still a good idea to commemorate the year with an office perk like a fun, festive party. 

BENEFITS OF A YEAR-END CELEBRATION

  • Holiday staff parties are a perfect way to thank your employees for a great year. All employees want to feel appreciated and valued.  What better way to serve this purpose, than with an end of the year office celebration. Hosting a night out to honor your employees during a festive time of year boosts morale. And if done right, your party can jump start the new year with refreshed, productive employees.
  • End-of-year celebrations allow employees to come together outside of their own team.  The average American will spend 90,000 hours (45 years) of their life at work. Unless you have a very small office, most employees only engage in relationships within their department. When employees have a chance to mingle outside of their regular 9 to 5 day, they’ll build and cultivate relationships across different teams within the organization; creating a more loyal, cohesive and motivated culture.
  • Seasonal parties can provide employers insight on those who work for them. Spending the evening with your employees in a more casual and relaxed atmosphere may reveal talents and ideas you may not have otherwise seen during traditional work hours.

CREATING THE RIGHT FIT

Regardless of office size, if planned right, employers can make a holiday party pop, no matter your budget. Whether this is your first go at an end-of-year celebration for your employees, or you host one every year, keep a few things in mind:

  • Plan early. Establish a steering committee to generate ideas for your holiday party. Allow the committee to involve all employees early on in the process. Utilize voting tools like Survey Monkey or Outlook to compile employee votes. This engages not only your entire workforce, but serves you as well when tailoring your party to fit your culture.
  • Create set activities. Engaging employees in some type of organized activity not only eases any social anxiety for them and their guests, it cultivates memories and allows colleagues to get to know each other.  Consider a “Casino Night”, a photo booth (or two if your company can justify to size), an escape room outing—anything that will kick the night off with ease.
  • Incorporate entertainment during the dinner. Have team leads or management members come up with fun awards that emphasize character traits, strengths, and talents others may not know of. This is a great way to create cohesiveness, build relationships, and have your employees enjoy a good laugh at dinner. 
  • Offer fun door prizes every 15 minutes or so. Prizes don’t have to be expensive to have an impact on employees, just relevant to them. However, with the right planning you may be able to throw in a raffle of larger gift items as well. Just keep in the specific tax rules when it relates to gift-giving. Gift cards associated with a specific dollar amount available to use at any establishment, and larger ticket items, can be subject to your employees having to claim income on them and pay the tax.
  • Make the dress code inclusive of everyone. Employees should not feel a financial pinch to attend a holiday office party. Establish a dress code that fits your culture, not the other way around.

 TAKE AWAY TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL HOLIDAY PARTY

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, statistics show in recent years only 65% of employers have offered holiday parties—down from 72% five years ago. Consider the following tips when hosting your next year-end celebration.

  • Keep it light.  Eliminate itineraries and board-room like structure. Choose to separate productivity/award celebrations and upcoming year projections from your holiday party. 
  • Invite spouses and significant others to attend the party.  Employees spend a majority of their week with their colleagues. Giving employees this option is a great way to show you value who they spend their time with outside of work.
  • Allow employees to leave early on a work day to give them time to get ready and pick up who is attending the party with them. 
  • Mingle.  Show how you value your employees by chatting with them and meeting their guests.
  • Provide comfortable seating areas where employees can rest, eat and talk.  Position these in main action areas so no one feels anti-social for taking a seat somewhere.
  • Consider tying in employees that work in different locations.  Have a slideshow running throughout the night on what events other office locations have done throughout the year.
  • Create low-key conversation starters and get people to chat it up.  This is valuable especially for those that are new to the company and guests of your employees. Incorporate trivia questions into the décor and table settings. Get them to engage by tying in a prize.
  • Keep the tastes and comfort level of your employees in mind. Include a variety of menu items that fit dietary restrictions.  Not all employees drink alcohol and not all employees eat meat.
  • Limit alcohol to a 2 ticket system per guest.  Opt for a cash bar after that to reduce liability.
  • Provide access to accommodations or coordinate transportation like Uber or Lyft to get your employees somewhere safely after the party if they choose to drink.

Ultimately, holiday parties can still be a value-add for your employees if done the right way. Feel free to change it up from year to year so these parties don’t get stale and continue to fit to your company’s culture. Contemplate new venues, ideas and activities and change up your steering committee to keep these parties fresh. Employees are more likely to enjoy themselves at an event that fits with their lifestyle, so don’t be afraid to get creative!

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