Episode 207: Holiday Party Guidance

On this episode of What the Hell Just Happened? Paul Edwards sits down with CEDR’s Senior Solution Center advisor Tiana Starke to discuss everyone’s favorite December tradition – the office holiday party. Should you serve alcohol? If you do, what are the risks involved? Should the party be held at your office, or held somewhere offsite? Learn the answer to these (and more) questions by listening to today’s episode!


Voice Over: You’re about to listen to another episode of What The Hell Just Happened?! Join Paul Edwards and his guests as they discuss and sometimes even solve some interesting HR problems. 

Paul: And… I’m gonna go off the rails sometimes and talk about whatever I want. 

Tiana: Hey, Paul.

Paul: Ho, ho, ho!

Tiana: Oh, he’s in the holiday mood. The spirit is upon us.

Paul: It’s the holiday podcast. I hope we get this. I hope we do a good job with this one because we’re going to re-release it every year right before the holidays.

Tiana: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. Can we, like, can we keep up with Mariah Carey? Is it going to be like the replay every year? Oh, that’s all I want for Christmas. Oh, yeah. Here it comes. That’s a season. It’s already playing in the stores, like it is happening.

Paul: Although I haven’t been in a store in a long time.

*Paul Laughs*

Tiana: You haven’t been in a store in a long time. OK, now we have to take Paul shopping. Yes. This is a whole other podcast.

Paul: I need to go to the mall.

Tiana: Yeah, go to the mall.

Paul: I need to go to the mall and listen to Christmas music 

Tiana: Yeah. You also need to do your holiday shopping. We’re on a deadline now.

Paul:I get that stuff sent in 

[Tiana Laughs]

Paul: We’re going to talk about holiday parties today. 

Tiana:  Yeah if You couldn’t tell already

Paul: If you haven’t figured it out, the do’s and don’ts. You want to think about this in a couple of different ways. Tiana, I’m just going to jump in. 

Tiana: Yeah, go for it

Paul: I want to think about a couple of different ways. Um, alcohol versus not alcohol. I want to recognize I have a ton of listeners out there. There’s no alcohol or holiday parties. It’s not a part of their life, and that’s perfectly fine.

Paul:I, I do want to bring up one thing about that. On location versus off location. 

Tiana: Mm hmm.

Paul: You know, I don’t think it really matters. I think I always think it’s better to go off location because you get to take people out of their element, and you can treat them and do things for them. And most of us want to take people out to dinner and. Yeah. Or, you know, do something special for them and their families and maybe do a white elephant.

Paul: Is that what it’s called?

Tiana: Yeah. Like the white elephant gift exchange. Yeah. You know, we are always doing our CEDR Holiday parties, like, offsite. Like, we all love, like, the change of scenery. We get to go out and downtown Tucson. Paul, you’re so awesome about finding, like, the coolest venues for us to have our party at.

Paul: I’m actually not the one that finds them, but I do get to approve them, and I do get to approve the menu because, you know, that matters to me.

Tiana: Oh, yes.

Paul: We have to have the little wing, we have to have chicken wings and the little weenies wrapped in the thing.

Tiana: Oh, yeah, like the bacon wrapped one?

Paul: Yeah .the crescent wrapped hot little hot dogs.

Tiana: If there’s not little Smokies at a holiday party, I’m out.

Paul: Yeah, exactly. But, you know, we do a lot for our show. OK, so we were talking about non alcohol versus alcohol parties on site versus off site for us. We do both off site and we do have alcohol that is served at the party, but we do a lot around that to mitigate anybody. You know, maybe trying to drive home and hurt themselves or hurt somebody else.

Paul: And we want to mitigate any liability to CEDR for sure. You know, town and do we? I think I’m pretty sure we do this. We still, we remind you guys that the policies apply. So, you know, there’s no sexual harassment or anything. You know, just like it can’t happen at work. It can’t happen at the party.

Tiana: Usually our H.R. will send out a memo and it’s just like a friendly reminder that the holiday party is voluntary. And, you know, of course, I’m kind of looking at this from my perspective, the employee’s perspective, right? Like, oh, we have an off site because that’s like fun and we get to build a new place. Yeah. But you know what we want to share with our listeners, of course, is, Paul, you’ve put a lot of thought into this from an HR perspective, like mitigating liability, making sure, you know, it reduces liability already if you don’t have the party on your premises. But I think that the voluntary aspect is really important, you know, and of course, if you make something mandatory, employees might try to argue that they should be paid for attending the holiday party. Right. So that could come up.

Tiana: But I think it also is a means to let everybody feel comfortable and included on their own level, you know?

Paul: Yeah. We had an episode where… we did an episode where an employee didn’t want a birthday party because it gave them anxiety and they ended up getting sued and they had to pay like a bunch of money because of how they handled it. So that’s the other thing I wanted to make sure is if you have a concern, report to you about someone says, I can’t participate in Christmas this way or I don’t want to go to the party.

Paul: You want to hear that and you want to make sure that they don’t feel like you’ve done anything to you know, you want to make sure it doesn’t have a negative impact on them. Come, you want to recognize they don’t want to do it. Don’t roll your eyes, don’t do what that company did which was they actually fired the guy for not being a team player and not coming to his own birthday party when he specifically said I can’t I just can’t.

Tiana: Yeah. That one was a nightmare.

Paul: That was a real nightmare.

Tiana:If somebody doesn’t want to come, that’s fine, you know totally voluntary if.

Paul: Someone OK on it. So if someone expresses their concern about their date, I can’t celebrate Christmas the way you do or I can’t we don’t do Christmas trees or we don’t do it the way you do it. If they express that concern, I’m really going to throw a curveball because I have some thoughts on this. And what they’re kind of doing is maybe complaining that you’ve decorated the place and Christmas, you’ve decorated you practicing Christmas. I’ve had a lot of well, I shouldn’t say a lot.

Paul:I have had calls where I had to deal with a doctor or a manager being upset because they felt like because this one person was objecting to how they had decorated the place, that they had to then take all their decorations down and that they couldn’t and that they couldn’t celebrate. You know, they couldn’t do their office up the way that they wanted to do it.

Tiana: That is interesting to me. So, you know, the first thing that I would always advise is especially for a holiday party coming up, just like keeping the language neutral and secular. Yep. You know, there are a lot of people celebrating. You know, different ways around the holiday season and are a part of different religious beliefs. So, you know, and that’s just standard now, you know, just keep the language neutral this is a workplace function show.

Tiana: And that’s what you want to keep in mind is this isn’t your own personal party that you’re throwing, but decorations, you know, I mean, like Garland, that happens to be like red and green and stuff. I don’t know if you can necessarily attribute some of those to like a specific religious belief and some of this is neutral. It’s just holiday decorations, right?

Tiana: So I don’t think this is a means to like don’t decorate at all or don’t put anything up. You know, I think overtly religious symbols in the workplace might be something to think about.

Paul: Because they’re a problem in general. Not because not because not because of Christmas, but not because of the holidays.

Tiana: Not at all, but like any time of the year. Yeah, you know, like so so it’s just having, you know, some good forethought to that regard. But yeah, that’s what I would say about that. I don’t know if I necessarily like receiving a concern like that and feeling prompted to take down your decorations. I would really start with a conversation first.

Paul: And I think that’s the important thing too, is like if you make the employee feel ridiculous for bringing their concern to you and it’s like, well, OK, you know, I hear you, I really wish you’d come to a holiday party. I mean, it’s kind of stupid that, you know, you can’t have that kind of conversation with them. It’s like, OK, I hear you and it’s OK.

Paul :Do you want to come to the party? You choose not to come to the party. That’s OK. Don’t worry about it. I am giving bonuses out. I’ll make sure you get your bonus. You know, we’re going to miss you, but it’s just because, you know, we want to be with you. And it’s totally OK.

Paul: And then if anybody on the team wants to chatter about this and gossip about it, your job as a manager or an owner is to shut that stuff down. 

Tiana: Yeah squash it

Paul: It’s like absolutely. No, you do not get to do this. And obviously you want to make sure that you don’t participate in it. OK, so that was a very specific circumstance.

Paul: But I think it’s kind of fun because it’s that’s a difficult.

Tiana: That’s a different one that is kind of difficult.

Paul:OK, so let’s say that you are going to have some alcohol at your party. We do two drinks that the company is going to pay for. I might extend it to three. I make sure we have a company Uber account. I’m sorry. Let me take that back. We would never have another uber account again. We have a lyft account

Tiana: [Tiana Laughs] Lyft, we have a lyft account

Paul: We have a lyft account. We make that account available to all the employees just for all the owners and managers listening out there and Tiana is probably gonna throw something at me. It’s an evil thing I’ve done because it looks like I’ve done this nice thing for everybody because I’m like, Look, if you need to take a lift, you’re like, you’re stranded somewhere.Or you’ve been out on a week you know, on a regular well, not a regular basis. If you’ve been out drinking, you don’t have to drive home. You can use the company account to get yourself home.

Tiana:It is a great benefit.

Paul: It is a great benefit. 

Tiana: Where are you going with this?

Paul: well, you can’t call me and say, my car’s broken down and I can’t come to work. Let’s just call.

[Tiana and Paul laugh]

Paul:  Because it I’m like, “I’ll send you a Lyft. And you’re like AH

Tiana: The trap it’s a double jeopardy.

Paul:So I do for you and I do for me at the same time.

Paul:But anyway, going back to it, we make sure that everybody knows that the lyft’s there. We communicate in writing to please take the lyft to the party and take the lyft home. So we try to discourage people who plan on imbibing from having that at all. While there is no science that says that eating food and drinking, that the food offsets inebriation, that’s kind of a wives tale, having stuff in your belly and not filling it up with more drinks, more drinks.

Paul:I think it might help tamp that down also. You know, I just think it’s a good thing. Make sure that if you have alcohol, that you have some food there for everybody as well.

Tiana:Oh, totally. And people want food.


Tiana: And that’s what I’m looking for anywhere I go. And, you know, and it’s a nice way to level the playing field too, for anybody who’s like, you know, I’m not a drinker. They still have something.

Paul:So that’s the other thing. Make sure that you make it clear that there’s choices for nonalcoholic drinks. And I think we do that 

Tiana:We totally do that.

Paul: Yeah. We have a non-alcoholic drink that’s available. And then it’s probably usually the best tasting drink. And then I’m like, could you put some like vodka in that.

[Tiana Laughs]

Tiana:Now everybody wants the mocktail’s choice and adding their own to it.

Paul:Because it’s so good. So what else do we need to cover on the holiday thing?

Tiana: I think maybe the other thing too, just going back to like the drink ticket idea, you know, Paul, we always hold the Christmas party on a weeknight and so that is automatically going to put some checks and balances in with like responsible behavior

Paul: Because they got to come into work the next day.

Tiana: Exactly they have to come to work the next day. Having an in time to the parties. So again, that kind of controls behavior. It doesn’t get too rowdy if you know that this party is going to last from like six to ten or six to nine. Yeah. You know, so there’s like a distinct stop time and that can just help people enjoy themselves but be, you know, their best behavior it’s still a work related events.

Tiana: And yeah, I think just having all of those conversations ahead of time with the memo is the one that I always want to circle back to because it’s really good to just clarify this and remind employees that, you know, our policies are still in place while you’re at this party. If any concerns come up surrounding harassment.

Paul: Or another kind of concern like something creepy happened at the Christmas party.

Tiana: Oh, and it happens we’ve heard from our members before some drama can go down at the holiday party. So remember, you still have to address that. If it happened at the holiday party, this is still involving your coworkers. That’s it’s going to trickle into the workplace yeah. You want to be open to those concerns if they come up.

Paul: Yeah. You know, from litigation concerns for me, I want a bartender, I want another entity serving if they’re going to serve alcohol, I want somebody else doing it. I don’t want bottles of alcohol or or just, you know, unlimited amounts just sitting around a bar.

Paul: A bartender could actually say to a manager or someone, oh, by the way, we keep a sober person. Not that we have people who don’t drink, who work for us. But we have someone of responsibility who a bartender can report a concern to. So it’s like you know, they’ve gone through the two drink tickets and they’re on their fifth drink.

Tiana: And the bartender is trained to let, you know, don’t over pour, know when to cut somebody off, you know, just stuff that’s hard to manage if you’re not somebody who’s exposed to that on a regular basis.

Paul: So let me kind of wrap all this stuff up. It’s awesome to put this off on someone else and have them clean up the mess, get people food, make sure that you kind of limit the alcohol that the company is paying for and even kind of keep an eye on how much is being served and make it clear that it’s voluntary.

Paul: You don’t have to come to the party at all. Make it very, very clear. Take concerned reporting before based off of whatever their concern is seriously, make them feel OK about not coming if that’s what their choice is, take concern reporting afterwards. If someone says something creepy went on, this is a work related event, make sure everybody understands that you. Wow theres a lot of rules.

[Tiana Laughs]

Tiana: You’re nailing it so far

Paul: People are out there like ho hum or make sure that everybody’s aware that policies apply and they should behave themselves. Get a company Lyft account and make sure everybody has access to it. Encourage them. If you’re going to serve alcohol, take the lyft to and from the event pack.

Paul: We even make cheap rooms available if people decide they want to stay, we try to having a place where they can stay. I don’t mean cheap rooms as in seedy rooms, I mean as in a cost effective room or some.

[Paul and Tiana Laugh]

Tiana: There’s a place for you to go to places you can’t drive yourself home.

Paul: We’ve had a couple of couples decide they just wanted to take the night. They wanted to stay in the hotel after the party. So that was, you know, a nice thing that we could do for them. And I think that’s it.

Tiana:I think you got it at all.

Paul: Yeah, we do it on a weeknight for a couple of hours. You people are in you’re out and done with you.

Tiana: That’s right.

Paul: Yeah. And enjoy each other. Like, let somebody else pamper you and take care of you and enjoy it.

Tiana: Tis the season.

Paul: It is the season

Tiana: Oh, I’m so excited for a party now

Paul:I can’t wait Tiana

Tiana: Woo. OK, cue the Mariah Carey.

Paul: Cue to the scene. Can we do it? I don’t think we can do that. OK, so happy holidays, everybody who’s listening.

Tiana: Happy holidays.
Voice Over: Thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of What The Hell Just Happened? do Paul a favor; share this with your network. If you have an HR issue or a question, you’d like us to discuss on this show, send it to podcast@WTHjusthappened.com. For more HR advice and insights from Paul and his team of experts, you can also join the private Facebook group, HR Base Camp, or visit HRbasecamp.com. Make sure you tune in next week. And remember: better workplaces make better lives.

Dec 6, 2022

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.
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