December 7, 2009Client Alert

Celebrating the End of the Year: Avoiding Heartache at Your Holiday Event

2009 has been a difficult year for many companies due to the economic conditions, and with that in mind, some companies are taking a different approach to their annual holiday celebrations. Informal research indicates that some companies are canceling the typical drinks and dinner event and instead are recognizing their employees in a different way. Examples include holding a lunchtime potluck meal, with a recipe exchange; donating the money that would have been spent on a party to an employee-selected charity; taking a few hours to do a team community event, such as volunteering at a food bank; or gifting extra PTO or vacation hours to employees for use next year.

Other companies believe that following such a tough year, it is important to celebrate with a “traditional” holiday party, and see it as a way to build community and to show confidence in the year ahead. Whichever way you choose to celebrate the end of the year with your employees, it is important to remember the following "Holiday Event Legal Tips:"


  • Remember - and remind your managers and employees - that normal work rules and standards of conduct apply to the holiday event, even if it is held off-site. This includes considerations such as appropriate dress, appropriate language and appropriate conduct. What happens at the holiday event does not stay at the holiday event, unfortunately for some.

  • Lead by example – managers and executives set the tone.

  • Party Police: if you see inappropriate behavior that needs addressing, don't wait for someone else to take care of it. Act and put an end to it.


  • Alcohol is the biggest culprit: when you take employees out of their usual working environment, and fund their alcohol consumption, this can lead to many headaches - that can last much longer than a hangover. For that reason, consider the following:

    • If you are serving alcohol, provide ample food and entertainment to make sure that drinking does not become the focus of the event.

    • Consider providing drink tickets; give everyone a couple of tickets, and then require cash bar after that point.

    • Don’t serve punches or other drinks in which the drinker cannot gauge the alcohol level.

    • Provide alternate transportation in case anyone needs it at the end of the evening.


  • Do not provide mistletoe! Would you encourage your employees to kiss each other in the workplace?

  • Don’t require your employees to attend – designate the event as strictly social and make attendance voluntary.

  • Avoid religious discrimination – make your holiday celebration an inclusive, non-denominational event.

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate the holidays with your employees, remember that employment laws do not take a day off, and unwanted guests including harassment and discrimination may join you for your celebration should you not keep it reigned in.

For further information, please contact the author of this alert or your Michael Best attorney.

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