Most of us are out to enjoy the merriment of seasonal festivities, but this also can be the most wonderful time of the year for plaintiff’s attorneys. The office holiday landscape is a potential legal minefield. Here are seven holiday do’s and don’ts for risk managers and HR professionals:
1. Deck the halls or leave them bare? – You walk into the workplace and holiday decorations are everywhere. But is a festively decorated pine tree appropriate in the workplace? That’s no problem, as long as it isn’t the only religious holiday you recognize. A Hanukkah menorah and a Kwanzaa harvest basket belong side-by-side with other holiday items.
2. Go or no show? – Should attendance at the company holiday party be mandatory? Unless the holiday party is during working hours, managers are advised not to require employees to attend. If you make attendance mandatory, the employees can have a reasonable expectation of being paid; not paying them could lead to a wage and hour claim. lf your employees don’t want to go, by all means, don’t push it. And while you’re planning, it’s best to refer to the event as a “holiday” party rather than a “Christmas” party. This helps to maximize inclusion. Be sure to mention the various holidays celebrated at the event.
3. Who’s burning down the house? – Your receptionist has decorated the office entry with a very large lit Menorah and a crèche scene. Is this her decision? Make it clear that employees cannot put up whatever they want, wherever they want. Sincerest holiday greeting to the National Labor Relations Board: management rights is not an oxymoron.
4. Who’s gifting whom, and what? – Remind employees that gifts should be appropriate, so lingerie from Victoria’s Secret is off the table. Consider also how to deal with gifts of alcohol. What if you prohibit possession on your premises? Send an email to your employees telling them that if they receive alcohol as a gift, they should not open or consume it at work. Encourage them to take it home on the day of receipt.
5. Drink, drank, drunk – While we are on the topic of libations, be responsible and control the amount of alcohol provided (and how much you drink) at company festivities. Do not allow self-service. Ensure you serve plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, as well as food. Don’t give alcohol to minors. Provide vouchers for cabs and let your employees know you’ve pre-arranged transportation for those who’ve imbibed.
6. Dirty Dancing? – Two employees are dancing very tightly. It appears to be a passionate embrace. Every year there is a marathon by plaintiffs’ lawyers: were you groped at your holiday party? Remind employees that your EEO Policy applies to social events and respond proactively to inappropriate behavior.
7. Best Wishes – The holiday cards have arrived. Why are they blank? Because no one knows what to say. If you say happy holidays, are you declaring war on Christmas? If you say Merry Christmas, are you disrespecting your Muslim colleagues? Cards should be general: “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” But if you know the faith of the recipient, feel free to customize.
Follow these simple rules and the month of December can in fact be the most wonderful time of the year. And January will be a lot easier, too.
Jonathan A. Segal is a partner at Duane Morris LLP in the Employment, Labor, Benefits and Immigration Practice Group. He also is the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute. The Duane Morris Institute provides human resource professionals, in-house counsel, benefits administrators and managers with training about a myriad employment, labor, benefits and immigration matters at Duane Morris, at client sites and by way of webinars. Read Jonathan’s blog at the Duane Morris Institute or follow him on Twitter: @Jonathan_HR_Law .