’Tis the Season! Celebrating the Holidays in a #MeToo Era
By: Tiffany M. Releford, Esq.
In light of the #MeToo movement, companies that have held holiday parties in the past are foregoing hosting holiday parties to avoid the potential for liability. However, concerns about #MeToo should not dissuade companies from celebrating staff, the holidays, and end-of-the-year accomplishments. Instead, companies should be proactive in planning holiday parties, as well as in educating employees about appropriate behavior, before hosting such parties to minimize risks. Below are suggested considerations for companies that do not want to forego throwing a holiday bash.
- Educate employees on your anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. Review your company policies ahead of time with staff, which should also be done periodically throughout the year, and explain the method by which staff can report violations of policies. Make sure to have the proper persons in place to receive and handle complaints, including having someone designated to receive such complaints at your holiday party. This will help to ensure immediate action is taken with respect to a complaint. If your company has an existing culture that denounces any form of harassment, that same culture will be maintained at your holiday party.
- Limit alcohol consumption at the holiday party. It is a known fact that alcohol can impair an individual's judgment, including missing obvious social cues that the person's behavior is inappropriate. To avoid this, consider limiting alcohol consumption to beer and wine. Also, think about using a system, such as tickets, to limit the amount of alcohol served to staff, or limiting open bar hours. Also, ensure there is sufficient food to lessen the effects of alcohol, as well as water to keep staff hydrated.
- Make safe rides available for staff. Before the party, recommend employees designate a driver if they intend to drink at the party. Offer incentives for staff that volunteer to be designated drivers such as gift cards, ride-sharing credits, etc. If employees are unable to drive home and a designated driver is not an option, have safe rides available for the staff, which are prepaid for by the company, such as Uber, Lyft, or taxis.
- Schedule activities during the holiday party. Often, there is idle time at holiday parties where employees spend most of their time drinking while interacting with one another. Consider having distractions in the form of activities so that the focus is not on alcohol. Activities can include a gift swap, recognition ceremony, ugly sweater contest, raffles, etc. Another option is to combine your holiday party with a volunteer effort such as a toy donation, serving meals at a shelter, or putting together meal packages before the party. Getting your staff engaged in the party will reduce the focus on alcohol consumption.
- Lead by example. Ensure management leads by example at your holiday party. Management can partake of the festivities as well, but must acknowledge that they set the tone for others. Thus, if a supervisor is drinking heavily, it will send a message to subordinates to do the same. Make sure managers know they must continue to be the example of what is appropriate behavior at the holiday party.
With proper enforcement of existing company policies to prevent harassment and discrimination, as well as the company's culture of not accepting behavior in violation of those policies, there should be no hesitation to hosting a holiday bash.
Whiteford, Taylor & Preston can assist you in assessing your company's policies to ensure they are up-to-date and effective, and can also provide trainings for your staff to educate them on company anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.