March 20, 2015

holiday party

Office Holiday Party Do’s & Don’ts

Season’s greetings! As the holiday season approaches, you may already be in the process of planning a work-sponsored party. After all, nearly everyone enjoys the chance to kick back and have a drink or two on the boss during the holiday season, right? Be careful, though! There is no shortage of stories about holiday parties that involve alcohol gone terribly wrong. You may even have a few examples in mind yourself.

From inappropriate confessions of unrequited love, to someone’s spouse having a little too much spiked eggnog and telling the doctor “you know what your problem is –” the potential for trouble is endless. So what steps can doctors and their office managers take to help ensure that things don’t get out of hand and result in a very uncomfortable return to work? (Or worse, a trip to court!)

Here’s how to proceed with caution and avoid headaches later. Note that this article focuses primarily on parties that do include alcohol. If you’re not serving any, that does help limit your HR risks, although some points below will still apply:

  • Hold your holiday party off the premises, not at your office, home or personal property. When you hold it elsewhere, especially with professional servers, it reduces your risk of liability.
  • Consider holding your event at a hotel. If you know your parties are always “epic,” you might consider the discounted hotel room option.
  • Schedule the party for a weeknight. Folks tend to party more responsibly if it’s a weeknight.
  • Make sure you communicate that the party is not a mandatory event. Otherwise an employee could claim they should have been paid. No joke! We’ve seen it happen before.
  • Hire holiday staff. Hire a professional bartender who will not serve underage drinkers and will cut off those who’ve had too much. Avoid open bar scenarios and situations where people, especially underage, are mixing their own drinks. This includes the vat of spiked eggnog.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking blurs ordinarily clear office boundaries. Sexual harassment complaints stemming from holiday parties are extremely common. When drinking is involved, miscommunications and misinterpretations become more frequent, which can lead to complaints. If you want to contribute to the collective bar tab, think about distributing a limited number of tickets instead of providing an open bar with a limit. This way you control the amount you provide.
  • Stick to wine and beer. Serving mixers makes it difficult to gauge how much alcohol people are drinking.
  • Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic choices. These should be free and unlimited!
  • Provide lots of food. This helps to take the focus off of just standing around and drinking.
  • Keep it religion neutral. Even if your holiday spirit is of the spiritual kind, be respectful of others’ religious preferences. Keep your invitations, decorations, and traditions secular. Avoid prayers at any company-sponsored events that include management. And watch the jokes about the rabbi and the priest – people may be more sensitive than you realize.
  • Limit the length of the party. Even if the party is at a hotel, it’s a really good idea to limit the amount of time alcohol is served and to stop serving an hour or so before the party is scheduled to end.
  • Make transportation accessible. Uber and Lyft corporate accounts can be great options to make sure your employees always have professional transportation when needed, whether for holiday parties or work-related travel. Let employees know ahead of time that transportation is available and can be accessed via mobile app, or however you prefer. Be able to show you communicated this information to attendees.
  • Policies remain in effect. Make it clear that employees are expected to act responsibly and that workplace rules remain in effect. Also, consider making all managers (at least those who are exempt) “on duty,” as far as keeping an eye on others to ensure that taxis are called, or that concerns are dealt with by a sober person.
  • Mistletoe and unwanted sexual advances go hand in hand. An employee might go along with a little “kissy face” at the party, but you can bet it will come back to bite later on.
  • Finally, after looking through this list, put together the details and conditions you want to communicate to your team and make sure that every employee gets a copy well before the event. It would also be prudent to post those details in a common break area.

We hope this helps make your holiday party planning a little less stressful. From all of us at CEDR Solutions, we wish you and yours a happy and restful holiday season.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature, and is not intended to replace good counsel about a specific issue with an HR expert or your favorite HR Sherpa. Medical and dental doctors and office managers may call CEDR with any questions or concerns at 866-414-6056 or email

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.