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Holiday Hotline: Workplace Holiday Parties

by Jennifer Shaw and Melissa Whitehead | | December 5, 2023

For many, December is a joyful time of year, full of parties, dinners, and decorations. Yet those same festivities make December a busy time of year for us at Shaw Law Group, as we field all kinds of holiday-season-related questions from our clients. This year, we’ll share some of those questions with our faithful blog readers in a December series we’re calling the “Holiday Hotline”! Today, we’ll tackle a few questions about workplace holiday parties…

Dear SLG: We have our office holiday party coming up. Can we serve alcohol?

Yes! But, employees who drink to excess may cause employers a headache that will last much longer than the morning after. For example, if an employee drinks employer-provided alcohol, becomes intoxicated, is allowed to drive home, and suffers or causes an injury as a result, then some court decisions suggest that an employer may be liable for resulting damages and workers’ compensation costs. Alcohol also lowers inhibitions, which can lead to behavior violating employer policies. Some ideas to reduce the risk of serving alcohol at these events include giving employees a limited number of drink tickets, offering transportation home, and serving a meal with the alcohol.

Dear SLG: We received a complaint that one of our employees made others uncomfortable with inappropriate jokes at last week’s holiday party. The party was after hours, off-site, and not mandatory. How should we respond?

Remember, it’s not about where the employees were, it’s about who they were with! In your case, they were with coworkers at an employer-sponsored function, so you should follow your internal procedures for responding to the complaint. That means that if the “inappropriate” comments violated your EEO or other internal policies, then you must conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation and take appropriate corrective action, if necessary.

Dear SLG: We plan to hold a Holiday Happy Hour event after our office closes next Friday. Do we need to pay our employees for that extra hour?

Probably not, so long as attendance is truly voluntary. However, if you require employees to attend, or if they would somehow benefit in their jobs from attending (more than just schmoozing with the boss), then you may be required to pay wages, including overtime and missed meal/rest period premiums where appropriate.


Want to learn more tips on how to approach the holiday season in your workplace? Join us next week for the second installation of “Holiday Hotline”!

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