Happy Holidays – Will You Accept Service?

When it comes to human resources ethics and compliance issues, perhaps no event on the work calendar is as controversial or stress-filled as the office holiday party. Once a spectacle of corporate excess and consumption, many companies have chosen to eliminate the grandiose holiday party altogether, both for economic reasons and due to the many risks that are inherent in providing employees with the opportunity to get together (likely around alcohol) at a company-sponsored event.

As most companies do not want to be seen as anti-holiday cheer, forward thinking businesses are conducting workplace harassment and discrimination training courses. Although your 2014 holiday party has either already occurred or will (likely) occur this weekend, it is never too late to train your managers on the core principles discussed below as they apply to the other 11 months of the year.

Religious Discrimination Issues

One of the most common forms of compliance issue stemming from a holiday party involves religious discrimination. The holidays are fraught with heightened employee sensitivities. These issues become worse when the company “Christmas Party” or “tree decorating ceremony” become offensive to an employee of a particular faith. From a management perspective you may feel as though you are placating the majority, but that sort of thinking is exactly what the discrimination laws were enacted to avoid.

Religious discrimination is one of the trickier areas of employment law. For this reason it is of the utmost importance that your party be known as a “holiday” celebration with neutral decorations and theme. Better yet, invite employees to bring in decorations for display that represent their faith and display a diverse range of ethnic and cultural décor to show the company’s commitment to diversity.

Some Employees Take Holiday Cheer too Far

There are countless stories of workplace harassment occurring at office holiday parties. Frequently the precursor to unacceptable behavior is excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages at the holiday party. It is very important that you stress to your managers and employees that harassment is not tolerated, and that consumption of alcohol at the event must be done responsibly. Indeed, holiday parties breed claims of harassment from both men and women, and can occur at any time. Remind employees that the holiday party is a work event and that there is an anti-harassment policy in place. Perhaps most importantly, managers and executives should practice what they preach and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol.

When the Party is Over it’s Over

In addition to harassment at the party, nothing good ever happens at “unofficial” after parties hosted by management, either at their house or at a bar (even if the bar is at the event venue). After parties, while often well-meaning, lead employees to feel pressured to participate or excluded if they are not invited. Indeed, a certain breed of “bro” or “bro-ette” employee is usually in attendance at these events, which frequently become debaucherous and a breeding ground for harassment and other illegal activity. They simply are not a good idea. Make no mistake, claims against the company can arise from “after-parties,” and the results can be disastrous. For a variety of reasons this is most definitely a practice to prohibit.

Syntrio Can Train Managers to Avoid Holiday Party Pitfalls

Maintaining a positive company culture and avoiding compliance traps is a fine line. Syntrio can help train your managers on the nuances of the law that will help formulate an effective policy for use at holiday parties and throughout the year. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your business!


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