The Dos and Don’ts for Holiday Parties: An Employer's Guide

  • HR Policies
Workplace holiday party
Kiljon Shukullari

Kiljon Shukullari, HR Advisory Manager

(Last updated )

The holiday season is upon us, and many companies celebrate with festive gatherings. While these events provide an excellent opportunity for employees to unwind, enjoy themselves, and foster team camaraderie, they also come with responsibilities for employers. 

Although hosting a holiday party can inject a much-needed morale boost into your workplace, it can potentially invite rowdy, inappropriate, risky, and unsafe behaviours. To avoid this, employers can take the initiative to set clear boundaries and expectations beforehand. Doing so will help ensure an enjoyable, safe, and respectful holiday celebration for all employees.

Here are some dos and don’ts of workplace holiday parties that can help you create a memorable and trouble-free celebration.

Do

Make the celebration inclusive

Plan events that are inclusive and respect diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Consider the preferences and needs of all employees. Recognize that employees may celebrate different holidays or none at all. If you’re holding the celebration on your business’s premises, choose decorations that aren’t offensive to a specific culture, religion, or group. Similarly, you should use inclusive language in the party invitations and avoid scheduling events that coincide with significant religious observances.

If there is a dress code for the event, ensure it is flexible enough to accommodate diverse cultural attire. Encourage employees to dress in a way that makes them comfortable and respects their cultural backgrounds.

Ask for food preferences and dietary restrictions

Plan a diverse menu that accommodates various dietary preferences and restrictions, including those based on religious or cultural beliefs, such as Halal or Kosher foods. You can send out a survey in advance to ask employees if they have any food allergies, preferences, or restrictions. This allows organizers to plan a menu that caters to various needs, including providing vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or low-sodium options.

Also, be aware of common allergens such as nuts, gluten, dairy, and shellfish, which can cross-contaminate with other foods and trigger allergic reactions in individuals. You can prevent this by separating preparation areas, avoiding placing these foods on the same plates, or using the same utensils and containers.

Communicate a code of conduct

Communicate guidelines and expectations before the event. Let employees know through party invitations, e-invites, emails, posters, flyers or internal communications that workplace rules and policies still apply during company-sponsored events. Ensure staff is aware that they can face disciplinary actions for any unacceptable behaviour or misconduct.  

Also, remind employees about the business's social media guidelines. Encourage them to use social media responsibly during and after the party, but make it clear that their posts and social activities must not reflect poorly on the company.

Choose appropriate venues

If you plan on having the event at a third-party venue, choose an establishment that aligns with your company's values. The venue should provide a professional atmosphere that’s sensitive to your staff’s cultural backgrounds. While nightlife venues, such as nightclubs or dive bars, can be entertaining, they may not be suitable for a company holiday party. 

When planning the party, do some research on the establishment by reading online reviews and feedback from previous business clients. Then, inspect the establishment in person, and check if it offers adequate privacy, security, and safety, including private rooms or sections that can accommodate an exclusive event. Ensure the venue is easily accessible to all employees and has parking availability for the staff. 

Prevent sexual harassment and bullying

To prevent bad behaviours, including sexual harassment and discrimination, at a company holiday party, employers must establish clear policies and take proactive steps. You can do this by clearly defining unacceptable conduct. Provide examples to guide employees through handbooks, training sessions, emails and company-wide communications. 

Emphasize that your business has a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying, even at company parties and events. Make it clear that there are consequences for violations of the policies, including termination of employment.

Consider accessibility and accommodations

Your holiday party should be accessible for all employees, including those with disabilities. Whether you’re having the party at your business or another venue, you should make sure it is wheelchair accessible and has facilities such as ramps, elevators, or handicapped washrooms. Before the party, let staff know about accessibility at the event, and encourage them to inform the organizers in advance of any specific accommodation needs.

Respect time offs and personal commitments

Be mindful of your employees’ family commitments during the holiday season. If the party is scheduled during evenings or weekends, be aware that employees may have family-related events or obligations. It’s important to provide adequate advance notice about the date, time, and duration of the holiday party. This allows employees to plan their day accordingly.

Also, be sensitive to the diverse religious observances during the holiday season. If the party coincides with significant religious events, respect employees' choices to not participate. Meanwhile, the holiday season offers employees an opportunity to use their paid time off for vacation or personal activities, so employers must be receptive and flexible with those decisions as well.

Don’t

Make the party mandatory 

Avoid making attendance mandatory. Some employees may prefer not to attend for personal or religious reasons. Explicitly state in invitations or event communications that attendance is optional and include an RSVP option. This allows employees to indicate whether they plan to attend or not, giving organizers a sense of expected turnout. 

Ignore policies on workplace romance

Surrounded by a festive atmosphere and with easy access to alcohol, employees might be tempted to flirt or socialize romantically. To address this, employers can develop and communicate policies and training related to workplace relationships before the party. Outline expectations regarding professionalism, conflicts of interest, and appropriate behaviours during holiday parties, including workplace or office romances. 

Enforce these policies consistently to avoid perceptions of bias and treat all employees equally when addressing these issues. This extends to speaking to your managers and supervisors about the potential for favouritism that may arise from romantic relationships within the workplace. 

Overlook health and safety

Employers should prioritize the health and safety of employees when planning a company holiday party. If you’re holding the party at your business, conduct a risk assessment of the venue and party activities. Identify potential hazards such as slippery floors, uneven surfaces, or other safety concerns. Address these issues before the event. 

When having the holiday party offsite, you should choose a venue that complies with provincial health and safety regulations. Ensure that the venue has proper emergency exits that are clearly marked, and the overall space can accommodate the number of attendees. 

Allow excessive alcohol consumption

Limit the amount of alcohol available, either by using drink tickets or having a cash bar. Consider offering a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of food to slow down intoxication. If you set up a bar for the holiday party, hire a professional bartender who can help monitor alcohol consumption and prevent overindulgence. Alternatively, designate a responsible person to monitor the atmosphere and intervene if they observe signs of excessive drinking or intoxication.

You can also consider hosting the event at a venue where alcohol and drinking are not the main focus. This could be a restaurant, arcade, or other entertainment venue that offers activities beyond drinking. In any case, you should encourage employees to drink responsibly and be mindful of their alcohol intake.

Drinking and driving

If your holiday party involves alcohol, then you must ensure employees do not drink and drive after leaving the event. You can do this by making transportation arrangements so employees can have a safe way to get home such as appointing designated drivers, encouraging carpooling, or partnering with ride-sharing or local taxi services. 

If employees opt for getting a ride-sharing service on their own, then you can consider covering their transportation expenses or offer vouchers.

Expensive or extravagant gifts

If your holiday party involves exchanging gifts, winning prizes, auctions, or Secret Santa, try and avoid overly extravagant, expensive, or personal gifts. Set some ground rules on what type of gifts are allowed and clarify a spending limit. If the gifts or prizes are part of a contest sponsored by the business, ensure the terms and conditions for winning them are fair, legal, and transparent, and allow staff equal opportunities to win.

Unplanned events

Discourage unplanned speeches, entertainments, or presentations that may create awkwardness and discomfort. If speeches are planned, keep them light-hearted, inclusive, and professional. You or your event organizers should pre-approve scheduled events ahead of time, so there are no surprises or inappropriate interruptions.

Company holiday party dos and don’ts checklist 

Do

  • Make the celebration inclusive.
  • Ask for food preferences and dietary restrictions.
  • Communicate a code of conduct at the party.
  • Choose appropriate, suitable, and safe venues.
  • Prevent sexual harassment and bullying at the party.
  • Consider accessibility and accommodations at the event.
  • Respect employees’ time off and personal commitments.

Don’t

  • Make the party mandatory.
  • Ignore policies on workplace or office romance.
  • Overlook health and safety.
  • Allow excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Allow drinking and driving.
  • Include expensive or extravagant gifts.
  • Include unplanned events, awkward speeches, and entertainment.

Feedback and continuous improvement

Collecting employee feedback post-holiday parties is a great way to create a positive and inclusive workplace culture. It allows employers to adapt and tailor future events to meet the evolving needs of their staff and lets them know that their concerns and preferences are being heard and addressed. 

You can distribute post-holiday party surveys to employees through emails or a link to an online questionnaire. Ask their opinions on various aspects of the holiday party. Include questions about the venue, entertainment, food, timing, and overall satisfaction. Make sure the survey is anonymous to encourage honest responses. By collecting and implementing feedback, employers can improve on planning and executing future company holiday parties.

Need help creating a drug and alcohol or workplace romance policy?

Whether you need help with HR policies or advice on proper company holiday party conducts, Peninsula’s experts are here to help. We can create comprehensive drug and alcohol policies, essential documentation, and assess your workplace for health and safety risks. Call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652 to find out more.

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