Corporate holiday parties continue to celebrate employees.
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Legally speaking: Avoiding the party pitfalls
Are businesses exposing themselves to liability issues simply by hosting a company-sponsored party? We spoke with Fred Gants, labor and employment partner at Quarles & Brady, and Mindy Rowland, vice president and chief legal officer at The Employer Group, to get their thoughts.
“There could be workers-compensation exposure,” acknowledges Gant, “but we have to realize that injuries related to dancing or physical games or tripping can happen anywhere. So while I wouldn’t recommend bungee jumping at the company party, I also wouldn’t be overly concerned with that.”
He strongly encourages companies to allow employees to bring a guest (spouse or partner, child, parent, or close friend). “Any of these people would be looking out for the best interest of the employee,” Gants notes. “In general, people tend to exercise better behavior when there’s a guest around.”
Rowland suggests companies consider the following as they plan their corporate events:
- Control the holiday spirits. Tickets or cash bars are best, or offer beer and wine rather than hard liquor, and don’t allow shots, she advises.
- Go mistletoe-free. Days before, remind employees that the party is still a work event so anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies still apply. Mistletoe has no place at a corporate event.
- Remember overtime rules. Companies requiring mandatory attendance must be prepared to pay nonexempt (hourly) employees for their time, even it it means overtime. If a company doesn’t specifically state that party attendance is mandatory but it is implied or an employee feels pressured by a supervisor to attend, legal issues could arise, she cautions.
- Spell out the dress code. Be upfront early about a party’s dress code. “Not knowing what is expected of them can cause people angst,” says Rowland.
- Consider the social impacts. What are the company’s expectations for photos or videos taken at a company function? Companies should communicate a plan beforehand to avoid embarrassing coworkers or worse — the company’s reputation — on Facebook or other social media outlets.
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