‘Tis especially the season this year for company holiday parties.  Manufacturers may have avoided hosting large group gatherings over the last few years, including parties, and may be seeking ways to engage workers and increase morale in the workplace at this time of year; to that end, hosting holiday or festive lunches, parties, and gatherings may be on the “to do” list this fall for manufacturers.  In order to have a successful gathering, it is important that such employers carefully plan the gathering in a manner that ensures it is fun, inclusive, safe, and avoids common legal risks.  The following are some key questions manufacturers should be answering as they sit down to plan such gatherings.

Who should be invited?  Depending on the workforce and the goal of the gathering, it may make sense to consider whether to invite only employees, employees and their significant others, or employees and their families.  There are reasons to limit and expand the list of invitees but the key consideration is – what impact will limiting or expanding the list have on the dynamics of the gathering and will it be positive or negative?

Should alcohol be served?  If so, are there ways to mitigate any associated health and safety risks?  This is a key question and will depend on the workforce, the venue for the gathering (e.g., manufacturing floor versus restaurant), and other factors.  Generally, serving alcohol can create risks to health and safety and depending on applicable state laws, could create liability to the employer if there is resulting harm to people or property.  For that reason, employers who are serving alcohol at such gatherings should consider implementing procedures to limit excessive or inappropriate consumption of alcohol including: serving non-alcoholic beverages in addition to alcoholic (e.g., festive mocktails), limiting alcohol per person such as using a ticket system (e.g., 1 or 2 tickets maximum), limiting the type of alcohol served, engaging bartenders to serve alcohol (and ensuring they will be contractually liable for issues that arise as a result of such service), ensuring that alcohol or the bar area is not the focus of the gathering, serving lunch or dinner, ensuring managers and supervisors are generally monitoring employees (e.g., observing if anyone is visibly intoxicated), among other actions.  Employers may wish to determine, with their insurance carrier, if they could be liable for alcohol or other issues related to such gatherings.

What is the goal of the gathering and how can that be accomplished?  It is important to remember that the party should support the goal.  For example, if the goal is to create comradery and positive team dynamics, it may make sense to include activities in the agenda (e.g., trivia, games, etc.) rather than general networking.  If the goal is for employees to meet each other who may not have met, it may be helpful to provide name tags, assign the seating, and schedule activities that foster interactions.

How will we remind employees of the company’s expectations for conduct when attending such gatherings?  Typically, gatherings are held in a more informal and relaxed environment; even so, employees will need to comply with company policies and expectations which may necessitate a reminder ahead of the gathering.  To that end, employers should consider sending out a reminder email the day before which references key policies that remain in effect such as sexual harassment, professionalism and respect in the workplace, dress code, and others.

Who will supervise the gathering?  This question is critical, as employers have a duty to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in supervising such gatherings.  Therefore, employers should ensure managers understand their role in supervising and circulating during the gathering.

Should attendance be mandatory or voluntary?  This depends on the gathering.  Assuming that this is a holiday or festive gathering that occurs after hours, it may make sense to make attendance voluntary.  First, not all employees may celebrate the holidays and may not feel comfortable attending.  Second, mandatory attendance may increase the likelihood that the employer is liable for any issues that arise such as workplace injuries (i.e., workers’ compensation).

How do you know if it was a good party?  Hopefully, employers receive positive feedback about the gathering!  That being said, it is important to ask employees and managers about the gathering and solicit feedback for an important reason – if anything occurred that may be problematic, employers will want to know as soon as possible so the issues can be promptly addressed.

Manufacturers who are planning holiday or festive gatherings should consult competent counsel with any questions regarding applicable laws and best practices.  A thoughtful and well-planned gathering can certainly make the holidays bright!

Photo of Abby Warren Abby Warren

As an attorney in Robinson+Cole’s Labor, Employment, Benefits + Immigration Group, I represent manufacturers in all areas of labor and employment law.  This includes discharge and discrimination issues, workplace investigations, affirmative action compliance, employee discipline, wage and hour issues, disability and reasonable accommodation…

As an attorney in Robinson+Cole’s Labor, Employment, Benefits + Immigration Group, I represent manufacturers in all areas of labor and employment law.  This includes discharge and discrimination issues, workplace investigations, affirmative action compliance, employee discipline, wage and hour issues, disability and reasonable accommodation, family and medical leave, unemployment, training, and defense in federal and state court and before administrative agencies. My full firm bio can be accessed here.

I represent manufacturers in the aerospace, consumer goods, machinery and other industries, which involves identifying practical, cost-effective and realistic solutions that prioritize and solidly execute the client’s objectives.  Manufacturers face unique challenges stemming from compliance with ever-changing industry regulations, including those impacting federal contractors.  Early in my career, I toured a client’s facility facing union-related struggles and realized that only through observing the workplace on the ground level can an attorney successfully understand and represent businesses.  As an employment attorney, I work alongside clients as a true partner to further their key personnel and human resources goals, including efficient and safe operations, recruitment and retention of talent, diversity and inclusion, among other issues. Whether advising on a leadership transition or on compliance with wage payment laws, the aim is always the same – to solve problems so clients can focus their attention on doing what they do best – manufacturing.