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Not-So Silent Night: The 10 Most Obnoxious Holiday Party Goers (and 12 Ways to Avoid Getting Sued)

by on
in HR Soapbox

Every year around this time in workplaces across the globe, the Ghost of Christmas Parties Past comes clanking down the hallway, dragging in its wake a chain of dread for employers and employees alike—drunken exploits, gag gifts gone wrong, ill-advised sexual overtures and the ever-present threat of bad dancing.

And you can expect even more of it in 2012.

Better economy = more parties. After several years of restrained revelry, employers are looking to party harder. More than 83% of employers are planning year-end holiday parties this year, up from 68% in 2011, according to an annual survey by workplace consulting firm Challenger, Gray & (appropriately) Christmas. (The percentage of party-hosters still runs behind pre-recession 2007 levels, when about 90% of companies put on holiday parties.)

“For many companies, 2012 probably feels like the first time in a while that there is reason to celebrate,” says Rick Cobb, executive VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Holiday parties are a relatively low-cost morale builder … they do not have to be full-blown extravaganzas to be meaningful to employees.”

In fact, 55% of party-hosting employers said the event is held at the company premises, up from 30% last year.  

Rudy, the red-faced accountant. Wherever holiday parties are held, they’re notorious for bringing out the most inappropriate, weird and legally dangerous behavior in employees, resulting in a lot of embarrassed faces on Monday morning.  

How weird do they get? A survey of employers by the Creative Group, a staffing agency for marketing execs, dredged up dozens of real-life examples of employees being naughty, not nice, at company parties and outings. Among those are the employee who:

  1. Rode naked on a ferris wheel
  2. Drove a golf cart into a river
  3. Snooped through co-workers’ desks while the party was going on
  4. Brought all of his relatives to the office picnic
  5. Threw his co-worker into a lagoon
  6. Attended the party with his pet python
  7. Was caught loading his car with all the leftover food from the holiday party
  8. Left the party wearing a co-worker’s shoes
  9. Brought his cocker spaniel to the party, and the dog proceeded to relieve himself near the refreshment table.
  10. Held a “dance off” with a co-worker to decide who was the better dancer. (It turned into a fist fight and both were fired.)

More Ho-Ho, Less Oh-No: 12 Tips

Want to make sure your employees stay in control (and you stay out of court) this holiday? Here are 12 tips for your upcoming festivities:

1. Make sure invitations stress that attendance is voluntary. Avoid conducting business, such as awards ceremonies, during the party.

2. Keep the festivities culturally inclusive. Avoid religious references and symbols and try to choose a time that does not conflict with employees’ religious observances.

3. Invite families. People tend to behave more responsibly in a family setting.

4. Follow up with a reminder to all employees that your company’s alcohol and drug abuse, sexual harassment and professional-conduct policies apply during the party. Word the reminder positively, noting that responsible behavior will ensure that all employees can fully enjoy the party, but also state that violations will result in discipline, just as they do during working hours.

5. Issue a “gag” order. Lawsuits are frequently spawned by offensive gifts, games and pranks. Include in your professional-conduct notice a reminder that off-color jokes and games are strictly off-limits.

6. Consider an alcohol-free party. Nobody says you can’t offer punch, fancy coffee bars or smoothies instead of cocktails.

7. If you do serve alcohol, consider serving beer and wine instead of liquor. Daytime parties also tend to discourage excessive drinking. Issue tickets rather than holding an open bar, which is an invitation to overindulge. Close the bar at least one hour before the end of the party, and take precautions to ensure that no underage employees have access to alcohol.

8. Hedge your bets: If you serve alcohol, provide transportation. Don’t just offer to call a cab. Hire taxis or private drivers and have them waiting to give rides.

9. Serve food, and plenty of it. Emphasize eating over drinking.

10. Ask supervisors and managers to help ensure that employees behave professionally. Designate one manager as the person to approach during the party if problems arise.

11. Don't shrug off complaints. Treat complaints arising out of the party just as you would any other workplace complaints.

12. Plan activities to ensure that guests have something to do besides drink and chat.

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