When hosting festive events, avoid HR pitfalls

Kelly Murphy

It’s almost the season to be jolly. And that means workplace holiday parties are just around the corner.

Festive events offer opportunities for colleagues to gather and celebrate another year of working together. But there’s a delicate dance between merriment and maintaining a professional atmosphere, ensuring your workplace holiday party is a hit while keeping human resource considerations in mind.

First, let’s look at the benefits of coming together to celebrate at holiday events.  It helps with employee engagement and retention as well as building camaraderie. Holiday events also provide opportunities to build connections outside daily operations and deadlines. The risks associated with these events including inappropriate behavior and lack of inclusivity. Careful planning and setting boundaries help make these events what they’re intended to be — a celebration of team members.

Whether planning a virtual gathering, a party at the executive’s home or floating in and out of the conference room for food, employers should take steps to stay on budget and remain compliant with employment laws. Every detail should be examined, including attendance, catering, food allergies, invitations, menus and themes.

Should the guest list include just employees, or employee partners and families as well as clients and vendors? What’s the purpose of the event? Whether it’s a festive challenge like an ugly sweater contest or a charitable endeavor for the community’s unhoused, consider such factors as alcohol use and designated ride shares. While parties can be relaxing for most, it’s crucial to be mindful of everyone’s perspectives, preferences and circumstances. Clearly communicating the purpose helps to fulfill that purpose.

Now we turn to the regulatory aspect. Before your festive event begins, take steps to avoid legal issues:

Evaluate existing policies and send reminders to employees as to clear expectations for workplace events, including holiday events.  Employers should consider any possible concerns with relevant workplace policies and how they’ll be handled in the event of violations.

If employees are required to attend the party, consider employment labor laws and pay non-exempt employees for attendance. Remember, not every employee might feel the same about a holiday celebration, so keep this in mind if requiring attendance. Forcing holiday party attendance could have the opposite effect of your purpose.

Keep in mind that not all employees celebrate and could feel differently on the appropriateness of observing one holiday over another. Best practice is to keep the party general such as a winter celebration instead of a Christmas party. This allows inclusivity for people of varying backgrounds and beliefs. Without generalization, employers risk the potential for a lack of inclusion and belonging or even religious discriminatory practices.

Set the tone in the invitation. Many workplace get-togethers could host a risk of inappropriate behaviors, especially if alcohol is involved. It’s the employer’s responsibility to reiterate the appropriate and expected behaviors, including not drinking and driving. Be sure to remind employees expectations for the workplace will be enforced at the event.

Navigating the holiday party season within smart business and HR considerations is a delicate balancing act, but it’s a crucial one for fostering an inclusive and compliant workplace. By following basic respectful steps, communicating clearly with employees and setting the example, business professionals can ensure everyone who wants to participate enjoys the festivities while upholding a safe and lawfully compliant environment.

This holiday season, let’s make sure our parties reflect our commitment to both merriment and responsibility, ensuring a festive season that brings joy to all without compromising our principles or purpose for the celebration.

And despite of some perceptions, it’s okay to invite HR.

Ed Krey is owner and president of Lighthouse HR Support. He brings to his duties experience as an unemployment insurance hearing consultant and helps clients run their businesses effectively and efficiently. Kelly Murphy is a senior human resources business partner with the Grand Junction firm. She brings to her duties more than 30 years of experience. She holds Professional in Human Resources, Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional and Advanced Workplace Investigation certifications. She’s also co-founder of the Colorado HR Connection group. Lighthouse HR Support offers a range of human resource management services to small and medium-sized businesses. For additional information, call (970) 243-7789 or log on to the website at www.lighthousehrs.net.