Question:

I’m a restaurant owner and am thinking of hosting a holiday party at my restaurant for staff and a few favorite customers. I’m nervous about how it will go, but I’d like to thank staff for doing such a good job this year. What should I keep in mind as I start to plan?

Answer:

You can have a festive and safe holiday party that fosters teamwork by following a few simple suggestions.

One concern at holiday parties is excessive drinking. A business, including an employer, may be liable as a social host if someone becomes intoxicated at the party. Therefore, you might consider relocating from the restaurant, where everyone works, to an off-site location to avoid confusion about who is responsible for monitoring drinking. If you have the party at your restaurant, you should hire a non-employee bartender. As a neutral third party, the bartender can monitor alcohol consumption and will not feel embarrassed to stop serving guests who appear intoxicated.

To avoid driving under the influence, take precautions such as giving employees coupons for taxis, or establishing designated drivers in advance. Limit alcohol consumption by giving drink tickets, having a cash bar, limiting everyone to two drinks, providing non-alcoholic beverages, and making a “last call” on drinks a couple of hours before the party ends. Management should set the example for everyone by not drinking excessively.

Wages are another issue. If you do not intend to pay employees for time spent at the party, make sure that they know that they are off-duty and are not obligated to attend. You can make that clear by having the party at a time when employees are not regularly scheduled to work. If you want to encourage attendance and hold the party during work hours, you may have to pay wages for that time. The less optional a gathering seems for employees, the more likely the time is considered hours worked for which employees must receive wages.

Unfortunately, bad behavior can also be an issue at holiday parties. It is important to remember that even when employees are off-duty, an employer may be liable for any harassment that occurs at the party. Managers, co-workers, and even your favorite customers could say or do something that could be construed as harassment. As the employer, if you witness inappropriate behavior at the party, or if someone complains about conduct afterward, you must take action and address it.

Finally, keep in mind that you may have staff members from different cultural and religious backgrounds who do not celebrate the same holidays. To welcome everyone, and to avoid a claim of discrimination, consider decorations, greetings, and toasts that are not overly religious. Take care to have different menu and drink options for those who don’t drink or eat certain foods for cultural or religious reasons.

Many employer sponsored holiday parties take place each year without incident, so, as a final tip, remember to enjoy the celebration with your staff.
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