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Three Tips to Keep ‘Company Party Season’ Free of Employer Risk

2018-12-05T17:19:11+00:00December 6th, 2018|

Guest post from Barnes & Thornburg

It’s the beginning of “company party season,” with events ranging from potluck lunches to all-out holiday bashes.  While these are great opportunities for rewarding employee performance and team building, these events also carry risk for employers.  Here are three things to consider when planning your upcoming events:

 1.  Is It Mandatory?  As a general rule, an employer can require employee attendance at a company event.  However, just because you can, does not necessarily mean that you should.  Mandatory attendance at a work function, particularly if outside of normal work hours, may have a negative effect on employee morale (which is contrary to the goals of most team building events).  It may also create additional work for your HR staff to take attendance and track the hours “worked” while attending the mandatory function.

If the event is mandatory, employers need to make sure that they are in compliance with all legal pay requirements for hourly employees.  Additionally, employers should have a plan for employees who refuse to attend the mandatory event.  In other words, is the employer prepared to discipline (or even terminate) the non-attending employee for being insubordinate?

2.  Is There a Dress Code?  Employers should encourage employees to use common sense in their dress.  While risque dress may work for a weekend party among friends, the same outfit worn at a company-sponsored event may run afoul of the company’s dress code or result in an employee complaint per the company’s anti-harassment policy.

3.  Open Bar?  Whether the event is in the office or off-site, alcohol consumption at company-sponsored events is always a concern.  For example, an overserved employee may be more likely to make inappropriate comments or advances toward another employee in violation of the company’s anti-harassment policy.  And just because the event is outside of work hours does not alleviate the company’s responsibility to enforce its policies (particularly its anti-harassment policy).  Additionally, a company can be liable – as a social host – for any injury or accident resulting from an overserved employee driving home from the event.