Holiday Party Nightmare Masthead Image

At many companies, the holiday party is a time-honored tradition. It’s an opportunity to celebrate with friends and associates at work and for employers to recognize team members for their accomplishments during the year. A cheerful, short, and upbeat gathering can boost morale at the end of the year, but it’s all too easy for the festive gathering to go awry.

Holiday Party Nightmares and How to Avoid Them

Charlie and Joyce never seemed to be very close at work. She worked in accounting. He was a product manager. Their paths crossed occasionally, but they really hit it off at the Christmas party. The champagne was flowing. Joyce got tipsy and Charlie invited her out for “just one more” as the party ended. Charlie called home, made an excuse, and off the two went in his new Camaro. Within an hour, the Camaro was wrecked and Charlie’s angry wife was heading for the hospital. A year and a divorce later, the liability suit against the company was settled for $300,000.

Unfortunately, it’s a true story that could have been prevented and it provides good reason for HR managers to worry about liabilities. Here are a few tips and considerations to keep in mind as you plan your end of the year event:

  1. Think hard about whether alcohol will be served – If you do offer alcoholic beverages, consider limiting consumption with drink tickets and make sure that there are non-alcoholic drinks and plenty of food available.
  2. Arrange for transportation – a cab or a van for individuals who may have “one too many.”
  3. Enforce employee conduct policies – Workplace policies regarding harassment, discrimination, conduct, and dress code should remain in effect during the holiday party.
  4. Make sure that supervisors know to set a good example – Go over your code of conduct and ask supervisors to help assure that all of the guests stay within the bounds.
  5. Don’t make attendance mandatory – Some employees may not want to come. If attendance is mandatory, it may be considered working time and hourly employees may be entitled to overtime pay.
  6. Be Inclusive – make sure to invite employees at every location and those who telecommute. Consider inviting spouses and significant others.

With careful planning and communications ahead of the gathering, holiday parties can provide end of the year fun without additional liability for the company (or stress for the HR folks). Here’s to a safe and happy holiday celebration!


Dillon, Stephanie, Holiday Parties and Company Liability, 11/13/17.
Experts advise on how to avoid holiday party pitfalls – Practice Tip, CCH Answers Now, 11/22/17.
Nightmare Before Christmas Image – unattributed and unlicensed, credits to Tim Burton and Walt Disney Pictures.