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Holiday Party Planning & Avoiding Legal Issues

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At this time of year, companies everywhere are beginning to plan their holiday parties and get-togethers.  Such parties can prove to be a great motivational event and serve as a thank you for a job well done. Regrettably, the confluence of religious expression, social interaction, and alcohol consumption can also result in a wonderful January for plaintiffs’ lawyers.  

Awareness of the issues and careful planning are the best precautionary measures. By taking a few steps you can take to ensure that your company has a great holiday while remaining free from any legal issues in the new year.

The Name Of The Event

  • The first step is, "What do you call your event if you want to avoid offending someone"?  The short answer...there is no answer. If you call it a Christmas party, those who don’t celebrate the occasion may feel excluded. If you call it a seasonal celebration, then those who celebrate Christmas may feel you’re demeaning their holiday by using a surrogate name.   The best you can do balance competing considerations, albeit imperfectly, by calling the event a holiday party.

Business Or Pleasure

  • Avoid making your celebration an "attendance required" event, handing out awards, bonuses or conducting other business activities as this may increase company liability.  In situations where such activities as those noted above have taken place, many courts have ruled the event a "work function". If attendance is not required, clearly state that in all invitation material and let employees know that time spent at the event will be unpaid and not considered as “hours worked.