Lawrence Lee's article "Dos and Don'ts For Employers To Consider For The Holidays" was featured in The Colorado State of Craft Beer newsletter on December 7, 2015.
The next several weeks should bring holiday cheer and best employer practices. Your seasonal ale is a hit and your brewpub is filled with party-goers. It's time to celebrate the holidays with your staff. All too often, however, parties get out of hand and workplace policies are forgotten or ignored. How do you keep your holiday activities fun and festive without risking a lawsuit?
In the article, Lawrence points out some dos and don'ts to keep the Grinch from stealing your good times.
- DO consider that not all employees celebrate the same holidays as you do. You may need to accommodate an employee's request for time off to celebrate Hanukkah or another religious event. Try to keep your company-sponsored decorations and activities religion-neutral (e.g., work holiday party rather than Christmas party) so as not to belittle or offend those workers who may have different beliefs and traditions than you.
- DON'T force workers to participate in holiday activities, such as singing Christmas carols or attending a holiday party. Non-work activities should be voluntary.
- DO plan your holiday party from getting out of hand. Pick a weeknight so that the party ends at a reasonable time and is less likely to turn into a drunk fest. Plan to serve plenty of food to help counter alcohol consumption. Make sure one or more supervisors stays sober to monitor the party and keep your employees safe. Call a taxi or arrange for rides or hotel stays for employees who have over indulged.
- DON'T exclude spouses or significant others from your party as their presence can help keep inappropriate behavior to a minimum. Remember, you can be liable for sexual harassment or other unlawful conduct that occurs at your company-sponsored event. Ensure that you do not laugh off employees kissing under the mistletoe or do not allow Santa to engage in groping the pretty employee sitting on his lap.
- DO pay employees for all hours worked, including any bartenders, servers or other employees who must work at/during your company party. Although wage and hour laws do not require that you pay employees holiday pay for time off on a holiday, if you have a policy that offers holiday pay, you must abide by it.
- DON'T discriminate when giving gifts or holiday bonuses to employees. If you decide to offer $500 cash to some employees and a turkey to others, make sure you have a legitimate reason for choosing who gets what. You are not obligated to offer any holiday gifts or bonuses (unless specified in a contract or policy) but if you decide to do so, bear in mind that word will spread about your generosity in doling out informal cash bonuses, so make sure that employees in similar circumstances receive similar items or amounts. You'll undermine any goodwill generated by gift-giving if employees see discrepancies along potentially discriminatory lines, especially based on possible favoritism of gender.
- DO enforce your workplace policies consistently. Just because it is the holiday season, you should not ignore the worker wearing the inappropriate T-Shirt saying "Merry F*@king Christmas" and request that he or she wear a different item. Correct any staff that are making fun of the pregnant employee who appears hungry at the appetizer table as well as those of different ethnicity, color or nationality eating certain kinds of foods that match a cultural stereotype. Remind employees that your dress code, harassment policy, code of conduct and other policies remain in force.
- DON'T throw your managerial duties out the window. It's tempting to want to be one of the gang at holiday events and simply enjoy the festivities. But your relationship with your employees does not change just because it is December and New Year's. You and your company can be liable for workplace misconduct that you engage in or that you allow among your employees.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.