It is certainly true that a workplace should be a professional and productive environment, employers should not lose sight of the fact that their workers are humans who cannot be in “work mode" at every moment. The occasional moments of levity facilitate bonding between workers, boost morale, relieve stress, and overall make for a happier and healthier workspace. One popular way to encourage these moments is with an annual party, usually held at the end of the year.
It is important to note, however, that these parties are not without their risks. When people are off the clock, they sometimes forget to maintain the sort of conduct that is appropriate in front of one's boss. While the result is usually just embarrassment, lives have been changed and careers have been ended after a party fiasco. Responsible hosts should take the following precautions to avoid serious personal and legal tangles.
First, it is important to develop an official policy on issues such as *** harassment and appropriate language. Everyone should have a copy of this policy and demonstrate that they have understood it. Some form of training in how to avoid offense or harassment may also be a good idea. It is hard to believe, but these social skills do not come naturally to every person. Once this policy is in place, employers will naturally need to oversee workers and enforce the rules, even (or especially) at social events.
Another primary concern for hosts is the issue of alcohol. It may be best to simply not serve this kind of beverage at a party; it is the most commonly blamed source of bad behavior. If alcohol is served, steps should be taken to ensure everyone's safety. Charging for drinks instead of providing them for free can be a good way to encourage moderation. Additionally employers should be fully informed about and warned against the dangers of driving while intoxicated. Providing for cab rides home may be the ideal solution if this is affordable.
The bottom line is that employers need to be present and paying attention at office parties. Any inappropriate behavior should be addressed as soon as it is spotted. It is true that if the behavior is not observed by anyone besides the involved parties the host will not generally be held responsible for it. However, if the victim of harassment or discrimination comes forward later with a complaint, an employer who fails to address it quickly and adequately could be in legal trouble.
For more information, contact Los Angeles employment lawyer Perry Smith.