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liability-free holiday partyWe’ve all heard horror stories of company parties gone awry. There is a reason that so many office sitcoms and dramas have episodes dedicated to the company holiday party. Despite the risk, holiday parties are something that many employees look forward to all year long and are an integral part of company culture. That being said, it usually falls on the HR department to act as the Grinch and enforce guidelines and rules.

Follow our guide to hosting a painless holiday party that is compliant, safe and inclusive.

Plan beyond the party.

One of the most prevalent ways that companies fail in planning their holiday party is by not allowing enough time to prepare. Many companies get bogged down with planning the actual party that they often forget to review what Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and sexual harassment policies say about after work activities. Organize a company-wide reminder training of the EEO and sexual harassment policies a month before, so everything is fresh for the party.

You also need to remember to refer to your party as a holiday party, rather than a Christmas party, so that you do not alienate workers or leave yourself vulnerable to accusations of religious discrimination. And definitely avoid having a mistletoe. It could be misconstrued as sexual harassment, and the joke isn’t worth the risk.

Don’t mandate it.

One of the most important things to remember is to not make holiday party attendance mandatory. Required attendance could potentially present a wage liability and makes the party a lot less fun. If the party is a requirement, employees will have to be paid for the time spent at the event, which could amount to a lot in overtime costs.

You also should make sure that employees in charge of party planning are properly compensated for their work time, even if it is not their typical work.

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Be careful about alcohol.

To avoid all alcohol related liability, you will have to eliminate serving alcohol at all. However, a lot of employers like to spread cheer by offering drinks. If your company does decide to serve alcohol at the holiday party, the best practice is to host the event somewhere with professional bartenders.  The most important thing to avoid is coworkers serving other coworkers drinks. Professional bartenders will always serve drinks with the standard amount of liquor in them (not the case when employees are pouring their own!).

You should make sure that you know your insurance policy on covering alcohol related liabilities. This may make or break your alcohol serving policy. You will also want to have a transportation plan in place to avoid any drinking and driving. If the party will be held somewhere away from transportation, it is a good idea to organize safe transportation home.

Some employees will be tempted to give into the fun of the season and get out of hand. It is important that the party is still considered and viewed as a work event, and employee behavior should reflect that.

Extend the invite to families.

Although it may increase the budget, one thing to consider is inviting family members. If the party is family friendly, employees will be a lot more likely to act appropriately. It’s a lot harder to act out of line if your significant other or children are around.

If you stick to these prescribed guidelines the party should be a fun and festive event for all, and should leave you liability free.