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Five Ways to Keep the Office Holiday Party from Becoming a Disaster

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It's not outside the realm of possibilites that you could have a live, in-person company holiday party this year. After months of CoVid-related intermittent human contact preceded by months of CoVid-related isolation, a few reminders of what constitutes appropriate workplace conduct - even in a social setting - are in order. Here are five tips for keeping your soiree from devolving into a liability nightmare.

  • Don't overserve. As anyone who joined a fraternity in college will attest, too much alcohol leads to bad decisions. Your company could be liable if someone who attends your party gets drunk and hurts someone else. Try to keep your employees and their guests from overindulging. But if Gary from marketing gets sloshed, take away his car keys, get him an Uber, and let him sleep it off at home. His own home.
  • Hide the photocopiers. No matter how well-educated and distinguished your team might be, odds are someone is going to have a little too much to drink and come up with the completely not-novel idea of photocopying his or her balls, butt, boobs, penis, or vagina. They'll think it's hilarious. You'll quit laughing when someone decides that this silly prank constitutes sexual harassment and hires a lawyer.
  • No mistletoe. We were all thrilled when Jim and Pam from The Office finally got together. But you'll be less than pleased when Bob finds himself under the mistletoe with Karen (or Doug, whomever), plants a big sloppy kiss on her (or him), and you get to the office one cold January morning to find a threatening letter from Karen's (or Doug's, whomever's) lawyer accusing your business of creating a hostile work environment. You want decorative foliage? Nothing says "we're platonic workmates so keep your tongue in your own mouth" like a nice hibiscus.
  • No naughty gifts. Everyone was so happy for Kimberly in compliance when she announced her engagment shortly after Thanksgiving that someone in management decided to prank her with a "naughty" gift that has five speeds and runs on diesel. Aside from being eco-unfriendly, Kimberly may not have a sense of humor, or be justifiably embarrassed, and the "it was just a joke" defense sounds pretty lame in depositions or on the stand. Leave the sex toys to Kimberly and her to-be-betrothed. Get her a generic gift card instead.
  • Think "Bar Mitzvah" or "Catholic Prep School Dance". Look, nobody wants to go to the stupid company holiday party anyway. People show up out of a sense of obligation and rarely stay a moment longer than absolutely necessary. It's supposed to be boring. So designate someone in management to be the "nun", the one at the old Catholic school dances who walked around with a yard stick and made sure that no one had too much fun. Or, to mix religious metaphors, remember that a good Bar Mitzvah is always unremarkable. If the guests are still talking about it the next day, month, or year, something invariably went terribly wrong.
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