'Tis the season for workplace holiday parties! While employers usually hold these festive gatherings to boost morale and thank employees for their hard work throughout the past year, employer-sponsored parties can also come with legal consequences if management and employees don't adhere to proper, professional etiquette. In fact, many employment lawsuits are filed after work holiday parties and involve claims of sexual harassment, religious discrimination and drinking-related incidents.
You and your employer can keep the atmosphere joyful at your holiday gathering by simply avoiding these four office-holiday-party faux pas.
4 Work Holiday Party Faux Pas to Avoid at All Costs
1) Drinking Too Much Spiked Eggnog
If your employer provides free alcoholic beverages at your office holiday function, this doesn't mean you have an excuse to guzzle down more cocktails than you can count. When too much alcohol is involved, poor and even illegal decisions can be made. For example, alcohol-fueled thinking can lead to unwanted sexual advances with other employees, shouting matches or physical altercations between your coworkers, or even car accidents if you decide to get behind the wheel after having one too many. So drink responsibility - or not at all.
If your employer decides to offer alcohol during work functions, it should also set some drinking ground rules for you, your coworkers - and themselves. A responsible employer may give each guest a certain amount of drink tickets to control how much alcohol you and your coworkers consume during the party. Your employer should also offer enough food to everyone so that no one is left drinking on an empty stomach. Additionally, a responsible employer may wish to provide taxi service to those who are drinking, or send out a memo to employees asking that sober workers offer carpooling to those who may be in need of a ride.
2) Not Reviewing Your Employer's Company Policies
Before attending this year's office holiday party, it is a good idea for you to skim through your employee handbook and your employer's company policies. Even if employees are off the clock and the work party takes place at a different location other than the office (like a conference center or a restaurant), your employer's rules should still be enforced. This includes prohibitions on workplace harassment and drug use.
Of course, a responsible employer should state to all coworkers in writing that workplace policies will still be enforced during holiday parties to eliminate any confusion.
3) Participating in Office Gossip
Your office holiday party will likely be filled with fun conversations that are typically outside of your normal day-to-day interactions with coworkers. But if you hear one of your coworkers or your boss speaking ill of another employee, don't get involved in the conversation. This is especially true if the gossip is regarding a protected characteristic like an employee's race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age or disability. If an employee is within earshot, he or she could file a workplace harassment claim against you if you're involved in the conversation. Plus, you don't want to be that person. Instead, be kind to your coworkers and appreciate their differences. And speak up if someone is being bullied or harassed due to those differences.
A responsible employer will not condone this negative behavior and should stop the ugly gossip or harassment in its tracks.
4) Attending a Party That Goes Against Your Own Religious Beliefs
Your workplace is likely filled with coworkers from diverse religious backgrounds. If you don't feel like attending the office holiday party, or if it goes against your own religious beliefs, that is perfectly okay. Do not feel obligated to attend the party just because your employer has extended the invitation. If you do feel like your job may be on the line if you don't attend the celebration, or if your employer states that it is mandatory for everyone to attend, this is a bigger issue that you should discuss with your employer's human resources department or an experienced employment lawyer.
A responsible employer will respect employee diversity and recognize that some employees may not want to engage in holiday-related activities at work due to their beliefs, or simply because they just don't want to go. They will also do everything in their power to ensure that any behaviors constituting religious discrimination and harassment from supervisors or other coworkers are dealt with accordingly.
Office holiday parties should be fun, and you should never have to worry about losing your job or feeling unsafe at work-related functions. If you feel that your employer is violating California or federal employment laws during a work party, or you are a victim of discrimination or harassment, contact our experienced California employment attorneys today for a free consultation.