Helinloik | Dreamstime
Covid Christmas Decorations

How to Follow CDC Holiday Party Advice

Nov. 6, 2020
Risk factors employers should consider before scheduling a celebratory event.

With the holiday season already well underway (at least when you look at the store shelves and displays), it is understandable that employers might want to give a little boost to morale by holding something like a traditional office Christmas party. But if you do so, make sure that you are careful and take common sense precautions recognizing dangers posed by the persisting pandemic.

Michael Oliver Eckard, an attorney with the law firm of Ogletree Deakins, suggests that employers follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on holiday celebrations during the pandemic. “While not directed specifically to the workplace, the CDC guidance offers helpful insight into the spectrum of risk factors an employer should consider when planning company events,” he says.

The CDC also recommends that party organizers review its previous COVID-19 guidance for events and gatherings that the agency posted in October.

Before planning begins, employers should first check on the current level of community spread in their area. In this regard, employers can choose to consult the applicable state and local health department websites, which generally report current data and trends regarding daily COVID-19 case counts, rates of positivity based on testing, and other up-to-date facts regarding the pandemic’s progress.

While the CDC does not propose any specific limitations on the size of an event or gathering, it recommends that attendance be limited to a level that allows an employer the ability to reduce or limit contact between attendees.

It also is important that employers consult state and local COVID-19 orders and guidelines because some states have imposed their own restrictions regarding the size of gatherings. (Eckard points out that his law firm offers complimentary charts that track many of the state and local COVID-19 requirements.)

Also make sure to measure the extent to which attendees are traveling from other locations and the places from which they are traveling. The CDC stresses that gatherings with attendees who are traveling from different places pose a higher risk to others than do gatherings with attendees who live in the same area. Employers may want to consider structuring holiday events around individual offices, work groups or other such factors to limit the number of employees traveling to the event from other communities.

The CDC also makes a point of warning that there is an increased risk at gatherings of persons who have not reliably adhered to recommended measures—such as social distancing (staying at least six feet apart), mask wearing, hand washing and other prevention behaviors—prior to attending the event.

As a result, Eckard says employers may consider emphasizing the importance of social distancing, hygiene and the use of face coverings during holiday events, measures similar to those already in place in their workspaces. Employers also can consider utilizing screening protocols, such as symptom and temperature screenings, for attendees arriving at the event.

Who Shouldn’t Attend?

That raises the thorny issue of what to do about employees who have been deemed ineligible to enter the workplace, such as those in quarantine because of potential exposures or higher risk activities during travel, who may need to be excluded from in-person attendance at company-sponsored holiday gatherings.

The CDC specifically recommends that individuals at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, as well as those who live or work with individuals at increased risk, should avoid larger gatherings. “However, employers may want to take caution in excluding such individuals from company-sponsored activities, as involuntarily excluding employees on account of medical conditions could trigger a claim that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in certain circumstances,” Eckard warns.

The CDC also provides helpful suggestions for hosting the event itself. In the context of holiday gatherings, it suggests that employers consider the possibility of holding outdoor activities where feasible and permitted by local weather, or indoor venues in which there is sufficient space to maximize social distancing and proper ventilation.

Employers may want to consider providing hand sanitizer stations, masks or other supplies to help encourage good hygiene practices of attendees. Prior to the event, the employer also should remind their employees about the risks associated with COVID-19, and the safety practices they are expected to adhere to.

In addition, Eckard notes that some employers may request attendees to sign a form acknowledging: 1) the holiday event is voluntary, and 2) the risks inherent in any group gathering, although he admits that the impact and enforceability of risk acknowledgments and waivers vary based on context and state law.

Finally, employers may want to consider the kinds of activities offered at the company-sponsored event. For example, the CDC observes that activities such as “singing, chanting or shouting” create an increased risk of transmission, and costumes or holiday outfits should not be worn at the expense of proper face coverings.

If food and drink are served at the event, the CDC also recommends that employers should take into account the risk of contact transmission and consider avoiding pot-luck style meals or self-service food stations.

Although there are myriad considerations to hosting a holiday gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC guidance offers employers valuable insight into ways to enhance safety measures at company-sponsored events during the holidays, Eckard explains.

“While some employers may prefer to hold virtual events in lieu of in-person gatherings, employers that choose to host in-person events may want to refer to the CDC guidance, as well as state and local resources, to help weigh the associated risks and implement measures to create a safe, healthy and enjoyable environment for all in attendance,” he says.

Sponsored Recommendations

ISO 45001: Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS)

March 28, 2024
ISO 45001 certification – reduce your organizational risk and promote occupational health and safety (OHS) by working with SGS to achieve certification or migrate to the new standard...

Want to Verify your GHG Emissions Inventory?

March 28, 2024
With the increased focus on climate change, measuring your organization’s carbon footprint is an important first action step. Our Green House Gas (GHG) verification services provide...

Download Free ESG White Paper

March 28, 2024
The Rise and Challenges of ESG – Your Journey to Enhanced Sustainability, Brand and Investor Potential

Work Safety Tips: 5 Tactics to Build Employee Engagement for Workplace Safety

March 13, 2024
Employee safety engagement strategies have become increasingly key to fostering a safer workplace environment. But, how exactly do you encourage employee buy-in when it comes ...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!