The holidays are time to spread cheer throughout your business and celebrate the end of another year and look toward a fresh new one. Holiday parties are common ways to celebrate at this time of year. However, employers need to be aware of possible issues when hosting and attending company parties.
First, one of the most common concerns during an organization’s celebration event is serving alcohol. One legal risk is employer liability if its employee subsequently drives under the influence and causes an accident that injures the employee or others. Another issue is an intoxicated employee acting in a harassing manner which could open the employer to liability for such behavior. Holiday parties create a relaxed atmosphere, which is great for getting to know colleagues on a more personal level. However, that relaxed nature may lead employees to discussing inappropriate topics. These conversations can quickly become offensive and result in a violation of company policies and employment laws. To avoid these risks, employers can have someone serve alcohol rather than permitting employees to serve themselves; limit the number of drinks that the employer purchases; arrange for a block of rooms that employees can reserve at a discount; or hold the party at a location that is easily accessible by public transportation.
Second, don’t require attendance at holiday parties, especially if they occur outside of normal working hours. This may create legal issues for employees who are not exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), if these employees are not paid time and half (overtime pay) to attend the party. Under the FLSA, organizations must pay non-exempt employees at a rate of at least time and a half of the employee’s regular rate of pay for hours that the employee works in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. Requiring attendance at company holiday parties may trigger this requirement for non-exempt employees. Organizations should consider including a note in party invitations that attendance is optional.
Finally, the party should be a celebration of the people who work for the company and not about a particular holiday. Solely mentioning the celebration of one holiday, such as Christmas, excludes those celebrating holidays such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Also, only allowing employees to invite their husbands or wives as plus ones leaves out a whole class of employees who might have potential guests to bring to the party that are not their husbands or wives. Make sure all employees are invited, and encourage workers of all racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds to attend.
Have a happy holiday season and celebration with your employees. Happy holidays from Yerger Law!