As I begin to plan our office Holiday Party I am already having nightmares about some of the bad behaviors I see every year. Besides excessive alcohol consumption, inappropriate items are given during the gift exchange. What can I do to ensure the party does not get out of control, or at least to limit potential damages?
Even though the employees are not working, an office party is still considered a work-related event and the company can be held liable, whether for an accident caused by an inebriated employee, a case of harassment, or for any damages, moral or monetary, that can result.
First and foremost, members of management must set the tone and provide a good example for the employees to follow. Often managers feel this is a good time to connect with staff by kicking back and letting loose, however moderation is always in everyone’s best interest. Remind them that while we want everyone to have fun, this is a work event and their behaviour should represent this.
Open bars at office parties are a recipe for disaster. Provide a limited number of drink tickets or close the bar a couple of hours before the end of the party. Provide a safe way for employees to get home, whether by reimbursing taxi expenses, using a road safety service such as Nez Rouge, or having designated drivers. Provide breathalysers and do not hesitate to take away car keys if an employee is planning to drive home drunk.
Avoid party games that are inappropriate for a work party. If a normally harmless activity (such as a gift exchange) begins to cross a line, either speak with the employees involved, or consider changing the activity the following year.
Have a policy in place for Psychological Harassment (this is a requirement of the Labour Standards) and ensure that it is communicated to staff regularly. Be vigilant during the party and intervene if someone looks like they are uncomfortable. Follow-up on any complaints received.
If despite the above, an employee’s behaviour is still inappropriate, do not hesitate to meet them after the party or to impose disciplinary measures, depending on the gravity of the situation.
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