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Keven Moore: It’s time for some holiday fun, but remember there are risks to company’s holiday party

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling, the air is crisp, and everyone’s favorite holiday is just around the corner. That’s right, it’s time to start planning the company Holiday party.

While a Holiday party can be a great way to boost morale and show your employees how much you appreciate their hard work, it’s important to be aware of the many risks that come along with planning such an event.

The holidays are a time for family, friends, and fun. But for employers, holiday parties can present some challenges, liabilities and even some employers liability claims if not planned with risk management in mind.

The first step is to decide what kind of party you want to have. Will it be an office-wide celebration or a smaller gathering of departmental staff? Will it be held during work hours or after hours? Will it be held at work or offsite at another location?
When it comes to decorating for a company Holiday party, there’s always the risk of making a disastrous choice that offends someone or potentially could cause an injury, damage, or a loss. For example, using real candles as part of your Hanukkah decorations might seem like a good idea at first, but what if one of them gets knocked over and starts a fire?

When it comes to planning a company holiday party, there’s always the risk of offending some of your employees. Maybe you decided to have a Christmas party during Hanukkah but didn’t realize that one of your employees is Jewish and can’t participate. Or maybe you’re serving pork roast and don’t realize that one of your employees is Muslim and can’t eat it. Whatever the case may be, someone is bound to be offended by something at some point because that is the world in which we live today.

The key is to try to avoid offensive situations as much as possible by being mindful of your employees’ religious and cultural backgrounds. Employees may need to be compensated for their time based on their compensation level. It’s generally best practice that holiday parties aren’t a required event to attend. Additionally, not every employee may feel the same about a holiday celebration, so keep this in mind when requiring attendance. Forcing attendance can have the opposite effect of what you’re trying to create by having the event.

Employees may feel differently about the appropriateness of observing one holiday over another. As such, it’s best to keep the party general; for example, label the event as a “holiday party” versus a celebration for a specific holiday. This allows people of varying backgrounds and beliefs to feel included. Without generalization, employers risk the potential for a lack of inclusion and belonging.

One of the most common risks associated with any type of party is the potential for slip-and-falls. Whether it’s someone trying to relive their youth with an old dance move on the dance floor, spilling a drink on the floor or tracking in snow and ice from outside, there’s always the potential for someone to slip and hurt themselves. To help mitigate this risk, be sure to have plenty of staff on hand to keep an eye on things and clean up any spills as soon as they happen or to shut down that spontaneous mosh pit that just formed.

Another common risk exposure at company holiday parties is inappropriate behavior by employees. Whether it’s someone getting a little too drunk or someone making offensive comments, sitting on the wrong Santa lap, there’s always the potential for things to get out of hand. To help mitigate this risk, be sure to have a clear code of conduct in place and make sure all employees are aware of it before the party starts. You should also have staff on hand who are trained to deal with such situations should they arise. As an employer, it’s important to set expectations and expected behaviors, as well as relevant workplace policies, for the event. Be sure to remind employees that all expectations for the workplace are still enforced at the event.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@higusa.com

If you’re planning to serve alcohol at the party, it’s important to have a plan in place to prevent overindulgence. You may want to consider offering ride-sharing or hiring a professional bartender to remove the risk exposure, who can keep track of how much each person is drinking and cut them off if necessary. It’s also a good idea to provide non-alcoholic options for employees who don’t drink or who are designated drivers.

Let employees know that while you want everyone to have a good time, inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated. This includes things like sexual harassment, discrimination, or any other type of inappropriate conduct. Remind employees that they are representing your company at the party and that this is a work event.

Even with all the planning in the world, problems can still arise at workplace holiday parties. If someone does get out of line, handle it quickly and decisively. Depending on the severity of the offense, you may need to take disciplinary action up to and including termination. It’s better to deal with problems swiftly than risk having them spiral out of control.

Another potential pitfall of planning a company holiday party is dealing with angry spouses. Oh, it happens. Let’s face it, not everyone enjoys going to their significant other’s work functions. And when you add alcohol into the mix, things can get even more complicated, and you can’t fire a spouse that doesn’t work for you. Therefore, it’s important to have sober and clear-headed members of management to keep an eye on the party before anything gets out of hand.

Holiday parties can help boost employee engagement and help recognize employees’ special accomplishments that may otherwise go unseen. Holiday parties can carry liability, so it’s crucial these events are properly planned to avoid as much risk as possible.

Planning a company holiday party can be a lot of fun, but it also comes with its fair share of risks. If planned correctly with risk management in mind, it then comes down to your own personal choice, moderation so that you do not ruin your career. But inevitably somebody reading this article will find themselves on the naughty list or wake up on a shelf like an elf in the supply room.

Be Safe My Friend.

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