The holidays -- they're undeniably the most wonderful part of the year, but they can also be among the most stressful for people who run businesses. There are orders to fill, clients to thank, and employees to recognize - not to mention a long list of personal obligations. While you're dashing out to complete your end of year shopping, I advise you to consider that that the holidays can also cost your business a lot if you're not careful.

I know -- the holidays are a time for merriment and no one likes a Grinch. However, as an executive who has staked his career on evaluating risk for businesses, I can assure you that the holidays are not a time to be incautious.  Every year hard working entrepreneurs are put out of business for easily avoidable mistakes. When you've put your sweat, blood, and tears into something as important as your business, constant vigilance is of the utmost importance.  Here are some potential blindspots to be wary of during the holidays.

1. Holiday Parties

Like anyone in business, I look forward to my company's annual holiday party with the keen anticipation of someone who's ready to celebrate making it through another year. I always count on the annual holiday party to be a time when employees from every part of the business can interact and have fun. From a risk management perspective, though, work parties some caution is necessary to ensure that everything stays merry and bright.

The #MeToo movement has shed an important light on the degree to which sexual harassment and other forms of impropriety can negatively impact both men and women in the workplace. Hiscox's recently released 2017 Guide to Employee Lawsuits reveals that, nationally, businesses have a 1 in 10 chance of having an employment charge filed against them. If you don't want your holiday party to end in litigation, consider a lower-risk alternative like a lunchtime gathering, followed by the afternoon off if you can swing it, which is usually a safe bet.

Hosting the party at your office location and serving alcohol can be a recipe for disaster. People are in a familiar location, so they feel comfortable - maybe too comfortable. These types of gatherings typically involve self-serve alcohol, so no one is monitoring how much people have to drink. Just one over-indulger who gets behind the wheel or behaves inappropriately with a co-worker can have far-reaching implications.

Also, remember that you're not under any obligation to include family or significant others as part of your workplace holiday gathering. The fact is, people won't stay too long if they're eager to get home. If you feel you must hold an evening gathering, if possible, provide transportation home at the end of the evening.

2. Seasonal Employees

Many businesses need to hire extra help near the end of the year - and that's a good thing. It means that you're busy and you have more customers to serve. But there are risks associated with bringing on more help, and they can be magnified if by bringing in seasonal employees.

Whenever I hire a new employee, I expect them to make more errors - it's understandable since they're new on the job. Seasonal employees should be afforded the same understanding, in my opinion. It's also worth noting that since seasonal employees are so short-term, they may not be as invested in learning your processes. That's why I always encourage small business owners to provide extra supervision to temporary, seasonal workers to avoid more errors.

While most mistakes made on the job are accidental, unfortunately there is always the possibility that an employee, whether temporary or permanent, may actually steal from your company or one of your clients. During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, or when you are hiring a temporary, seasonal employee, it may be difficult to detect such instances of theft until it is too late. Be careful when entrusting new or seasonal employees with large amounts of cash or merchandise if they're not supervised.

3. Stormy Weather

This one may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised how many businesses are shuttered each year due to a lawsuit filed because of a slip and fall. Ice, snow and even rain can present risks to your business. If someone slips and falls on your premises, you could be liable for the costs related to their injuries.

Be sure to keep your floors dry, and steps and entryways free of snow, ice, water and obstructions. If you rent your space, check your commercial lease agreement to see if you or your landlord is responsible for snow removal. If your landlord is responsible but doesn't comply, clear the walkway and steps yourself to prevent an accident. Safety is always a foremost priority, but these preventative measures put in place will also protect you against liability.

4. Distracted Employees

At the end of the year, everyone has a lot on their mind, and it's easy to get distracted.  Employees may be thinking more about upcoming travel and festivities and less about work. It's okay to look forward to the holiday season, but try to keep your team focused on the job at hand in order to protect against some of these avoidable risks.

Being smart, doesn't have to mean being a Scrooge. Keeping these potential vulnerabilities in mind will help you prevent them from damaging your business, and let you ring in the new year with a bang.

Published on: Dec 24, 2017