The holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year, but it also poses legal and employee relations challenges to employers of all sizes. Most of these challenges can be mitigated with some thoughtful planning. So, here’s a checklist of some of the more salient issues to consider to minimize the risk that your December celebrations will result in January claims.
1. Don't eliminate Christmas.
Don’t eliminate Christmas from the holiday season, says this Jewish guy. It’s a beautiful holiday that should be celebrated. And, a Christmas tree is just fine, too! Remember, it’s about inclusion, not exclusion. So, speaking of inclusion -- what about those who don’t celebrate Christmas?
2. Include other holidays.
Recognize other holidays, such as Hanukkah and Kwanza, in your decorations and announcements. For example, consider a menorah and Kwanza basket along with the Christmas tree.
3. What holiday did you forget?
You don’t know what you don’t know. Profound, no? So, ask.
Ask employees if there is a holiday that they would like to see included in the celebration (and that includes decorations). Reminder: the Buddhist holiday of Bodhi day falls on January 5 this year.
4. What should you call your party?
“Holiday party” or “Celebration of the Season” are inclusive terms. Make the party itself inclusive too by having decorations and the music reflect diverse holidays. But which decorations and songs? Those that are more religious are more appropriate for religious celebrations (or for religious employers). Fact: Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is just fine!
5. Should you serve alcohol?
Never serve it to minors. Make clear adults who get it for them will be subject to immediate discharge. As for adults, take steps to minimize abuse, such as limiting drinks, providing lots of food or even making employees pay for alcohol and then donating the money, with a match, to charity.
Even with restrictions, assume some people may abuse the alcohol you serve. Consider having cab vouchers ready for them without management knowing who the users are. This increases the likelihood that those who need vouchers will use them.
6. What about harassment?
This is perennial problem at holiday parties. But you can bet this year employees who are subject to improper conduct appropriately will speak up. #MeToo. Remind your employees that your anti-harassment policy applies to the party. But that’s not enough. Make sure to remind managers of their responsibilities. If you are in management and you see or hear unacceptable comments or conduct, you must intervene. To see and ignore is to condone.
7. What about the "after party?"
To be blunt, no good comes from after parties. Unless, you consider claims arising out of the after party good. Make clear you are not sponsoring any after party, and do not allow employer money to be used for it. And, never attend if you are in management. Attending is about as safe as walking on railroad tracks.
8. What about greetings?
It’s best to be general with your holiday greetings unless you know otherwise. The default should be “Happy Holidays.” But if you know someone is Christian, by all means wish that person a Merry Christmas. I do, and I appreciate it when people wish me a “Happy Hanukkah” because they know I am Jewish. I am less thrilled if they are making assumptions. When addressing groups, be as inclusive as you can be, as I shall try to do now:
If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday that corresponds with your faith. If you observe another holiday now, I apologize for not referencing it by name, but I give you my good wishes just the same, as I do for those who recognize no holidays or who celebrate at another time of year. May peace be with all! And, please, be good to each other.