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Posted: December 01, 2010

Whatever you do—no mistletoe!

Plus nine other holiday office party tips

Todd Fredrickson

After two years of downsizing, cutbacks and general austerity, the signs are there that corporate America is feeling more confident about business prospects and is once again warming up to that old ritual, the holiday party.

According to the Bureau of National Affairs Inc., an Arlington, Virginia-based research firm, 76 percent of employers nationally will hold some sort of holiday party this year, up from a decade low of 67 percent last year.

And while many year-end bashes are less extravagant than they used to be, employers should be aware that the holiday party can become an HR disaster, especially if alcohol is on hand to fuel inappropriate behavior.

Here are 10 tips to ensure that your company's holiday party doesn't end in a litigation hangover:

10. If possible, don't serve alcohol. This is easier to do if you simply have a catered lunch at the company's offices.

9. Invite spouses and significant others so that there will be someone there to help keep an eye on your employees and, if necessary, get them home safely.

8. Always serve food if you serve alcohol, and always have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available.

7. If your party is a dinner, consider serving only wine or beer (plus non-alcoholic alternatives) with the meal.

6. If you do serve alcohol, don't have an"open bar" where employees can drink as much as they want. Instead, have a cash bar or use a ticket system to limit the number of drinks. Close the bar at least an hour before you plan to end the party. Switch to coffee and soft drinks from there on.

5. Let your managers know that they will be considered to be "on duty" at the party. They should be instructed to keep an eye on their subordinates to ensure they don't drink too much. Instruct managers that they are not to attend any "post party" parties.

4. Consumption of alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment. This can result in employees saying and doing things that they wouldn't ordinarily do Remind employees that, while you encourage everyone to have a good time, your company's normal workplace standards of conduct will be in force at the party, and misconduct at or after the party can result in disciplinary action.

3. Hire professional bartenders (don't use supervisors!) and instruct them to report anyone whom they think has had too much. Ensure that bartenders require identification from guests who don't appear to be substantially over 21.

2. Arrange for no-cost taxi service for any employee who feels that he or she shouldn't drive home. At management's discretion, be prepared to provide hotel rooms for intoxicated employees.

1. Never, never, never hang mistletoe! Yep,we're not kidding. Take a look at item number 4 again, and you'll see why.

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Todd Fredrickson is managing partner of the Denver office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, representing employers across the country in labor, employment, civil rights, employee benefits and immigration matters. He can be reached at 303-218-3660 or

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Readers Respond

Todd --- How can an employer enforce "after party" behavior that is not on company grounds? Could this be considered an encroachment on employees' personal lives? If not, why not, and how does one go about enforcement of post-party no-nos? By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2010 12 01

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