Holiday Parties: 10 Tips to Minimize Risk
Holiday Tea Cup
November 16, 2022

With the holiday season kicking off next week, remote, hybrid and in-person workplaces are considering their approach to a holiday party. Human Resource leaders are often tasked with offering up suggestions for the organizational holiday gathering. While the goal of a holiday event is to recognize the workforce, create camaraderie and boost morale, there is always an element of liability involved. Here are some tips to help you navigate your holiday gathering:

1. Help keep your employees off the “naughty list”.

  • Make sure all of your policies and training for those policies are up-to-date. Consider circulating your policies prior to the party. You don’t want to end up in the news and this applies to in-person and remote gatherings.
  • Stay away from having Santa, dancing and mistletoe. Sitting on Santa’s lap, slow dancing and kissing under the mistletoe all invite bad behavior.
  • If you’re having an after work hours gathering, consider extending the invitation to family members. This may increase costs and it could save legal fees and ruined reputations down the road.
  • Host a holiday lunch on site where all work rules apply.

2. Keep the venue business like.

If you’re hosting an in-person, after hours event consider having the party off-site. That way, a venue with its own liquor license, insurance and appropriate ambiance (e.g., more business-oriented) can take the pressure off of the organizers. If the event will be held on-site for cost or other reasons, make sure you have the proper insurance to cover any possible “situation”. You may also want to hire outside vendors. Check the contracts and negotiate around “hold harmless”/indemnification clauses. You’re hiring them to be the experts in event management.

3. Consider the diversity in your organization.

Ensure that your party is inclusive and reduce the risk of offending anyone by following these guidelines:

  • If your workplace is hybrid, it’s always more inclusive to choose a virtual option. Ask your employees what they prefer.
  • Check calendars to ensure that the planned event does not fall on a religious holiday.
  • Choose a nondenominational theme such as “holiday party,” “winter celebration”, “annual banquet”, instead of “Christmas party”.
  • Avoid religious-based party decor.
  • Discourage gift exchanges through traditions like “Secret Santa,” whether meant to be sincere or humorous. Company marketing items make great gifts.
  • Offer a variety of food to reduce conflict with dietary and religious preferences.

4. Provide safe transportation/lodging options.

When having an in person event offer safe transportation and/or lodging options. The organization should encourage responsible drinking if alcohol will be available. Perhaps you have a “cash bar” or tickets for alcoholic beverages, and a “free bar” for non-alcoholic drinks.

5. Keep it social- no business allowed.

  • Plan to keep it social. Your event should be voluntary particularly if it’s held outside of business hours. This way you avoid having the event be considered compensable working time for your hourly employees.
  • Avoid asking hourly employees to perform duties at the event for the benefit of the employer. This includes picking up party supplies, setting up at the event, playing DJ, making or passing food, tending bar, restocking tables, cleaning up and similar activities.
  • If you do need employee help, consider using salaried employees – everyone likes to have the management wait on them for an event – it adds to the fun. Or, just hire outside help! Keep business out of it – no business speeches, or doing business allowed or the time may be compensable for hourly workers.

6. Communicate expectations in advance.

An effective way to do this is by communicating to employees a week or two before the event, reminding them of the details (time and location, etc.) and clearly outlining expectations, including:

  • Reminding employees of the applicable company policies for the event;
  • Cautioning that alcohol should be consumed only in a safe and responsible manner;
  • Identifying transportation and lodging options, if appropriate, to encourage responsible choices; and
  • Confirming that attendance at the event is voluntary and is not compensable work time. Make sure you word it in a way that does not take the FUN out of the invitation!

7. Serve alcohol responsibly.

The simplest ways to avoid risk is to avoid serving alcohol altogether. And if you have a virtual gathering be vigilant and keep the health and well being of your employees in mind. If you do serve liquor, consider wine and beer only.

  • Always have a professional serve the alcoholic beverages. Professionals have liability insurance and recognize when someone is intoxicated.
  • Determine the plan in advance regarding employees who over indulge. Non-alcoholic beverages should be openly offered and encouraged.
  • Make sure you have enough food to adequately offset alcohol consumption. It is also advisable to close the bar an hour or so before the party ends and serve only coffee, tea, and soft drinks until the end.
  • Run an activity at the end of the party after the bar closes. Consider entertainment, a game, or raffle/door prizes that can only be won if the party is still in the room!

8. Address bad behavior in real time.

Leaders and HR representatives should be encouraged to attend the party. If you’re serving alcohol, we all know that it can bring out the best and worst in employees. Think about designating “chaperone” roles and ask those employees to be on the look for poor behavior. These folks should minimize or skip the alcohol. If you designate hourly employees for this role, they should be paid. Ensure that you have a process and training in place to help your chaperones navigate tricky situations.

9. Set an end time.

The event should have a definitive start and end time. Consider having a senior leader/owner provide concluding remarks at the defined end time and thank everyone for coming. This way, it will be quite clear when the party is over. They can also take the opportunity to reiterate the message to travel home safely and remind people of alternative methods of transportation or lodging rather than driving under the influence.

10. Skip the holiday party altogether.

Attend a sporting event, go bowling or have a painting party. Some organizations are also choosing to do service projects or have added more team building activities throughout the year in lieu of a party. Take the holiday event budget and give back to your workforce in a meaningful way. Pay attention to what is important to your employees. Whatever you do, focus on building morale in your organization.

If you still need some guidance in this area, reach out to KardasLarson. We’re here to help!

Leesa Schipani

Leesa Schipani


With 20+ years HR experience, her focus includes HR strategy, talent management, and customer & employee experience. Leesa has advanced HR certifications: SPHR, SHRM-SCP.


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KardasLarson is a human resources and business consulting firm that maximizes employee performance so people and organizations prosper.



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