Teams that work well together don't always play well together. Exhibit A: The Office Holiday Party. These get-togethers often span both ends of the spectrum--from lame to scandalous. And they could make for a fun game of Office Holiday Party Bingo.
"When liquor and the word 'party' are involved, all normal management and standards of behavior go out the window, creating seven-figure lawsuit liabilities for business owners, including sexual harassment claims, discrimination claims, personal injury, even assaults, all attributed to the business owner," says Ike Z. Devji, a Phoenix-based attorney who specializes in asset protection.
Devji says he's heard of several office parties gone bad:
- A chiropractor who shows up to his office party dressed as Santa and has all employees sit on his lap.
- A head of IT and three other employees caught looking at porn on office computers by born-again female employee during party.
- Two intoxicated coworkers pass out while having sex in break room, and are discovered by other employees who post about it on Facebook--leading to divorce.
- A business owner who gives an employee a ride home because she's had too much to drink and gets in accident. She is injured, he gets DUI and she sues him.
"Company events are for getting to know coworkers better and having fun, but employees should keep their behavior in check," says Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service for interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals. "As with any social interaction with your boss and colleagues, it's important to display professional etiquette, even outside of office walls."
Domeyer has heard of holiday parties where one coworker brought a bag of Tupperware so she could pack up all the leftovers and a holiday picnic where two coworkers decided it was the perfect time to hash out their differences with a fistfight.
Managers and employees can keep the festivities in check by following a few simple party rules, suggest Devji and Domeyer:
1. Don't require attendance.?"Make it clear that the party is an optional perk, not a required work activity that is linked to their job requirements," says Devji. "If they are required to attend it raises your liability."
2. Lead by example. "The boss" or some kind of hall monitor being present goes a long way, says Devji. Be friendly and collegial but control your drinking, get people to eat, and make sure someone is clearly in charge and visible as the host.
"Many of our clients have been involved in lawsuits related to the conduct of their partners while everyone was making sure the guests were behaving," he says. "The rules apply to everyone, especially you and all management."
3. Establish a dress code. Make sure your colleagues and employees understand that this is a business event, not a nightclub atmosphere, says Devji. Communicate it clearly and in advance so your guests are not surprised or embarrassed.
And ditch the Santa suit, says Domeyer. "It's OK to be festive, but don't wear anything too outrageous or revealing," she says.
4. Serve the food before the drinks. Put some food in your guests, before the drinks are really flowing if possible. This will keep them busy, slow their drinking and help ensure they don't drink until they are full.
5. Control and limit the booze. It's not realistic to expect that many offices will abstain from serving alcohol completely, says Devji, but this is the number one source of problems at most parties.
"Remember that you are responsible for just about everything that happens during and even after the party, including liability for those who may injure themselves or others as a result of excessive drinking or as their lawyer will put it, 'being over served,'" he says.
6. Hold the party off site. It's often more fun and helps transfer liability on some issues to the "professional" hosts at a restaurant or other venue. Make sure the venue itself does not create additional liabilities or an environment that may promote inappropriate contact or behavior or excessive consumption.
"Cross the 'Home of the Barber Shop Shot Chair and Mechanical Bull' bar off your list," says Devji.
7. Avoid sharing TMI. It's natural to let your guard down during casual get-togethers, but there's no reason to start divulging secrets, says Domeyer. Keep the conversation upbeat and avoid cringe-worthy topics.
8. Stay off social media. It's fun to take photos at group events, but refrain from posting embarrassing pictures of your coworkers on social media, says Domeyer. "If you want to share photos, be sure to get permission from your work team first," she adds.