As of the date of this posting, there are only 38 more sleeps until December 25 (according to my kids’ countdown app).  This means only 5 more weekends (6 if you count December 24 as a perfectly noble shopping day) and likely several parties before the end of the year.  Cue the annual articles on holiday party liability.

Photo Credit - Marcela Laskoski
Photo Credit – Marcela Laskoski

If you are a young entrepreneur with a workforce full of friends, see my past post, Holiday Party Tips for the Young Boss.

With the increasingly diverse demographics of our Canadian workforce, fewer employees will actually celebrate a religious Christmas, so the focus is likely more on marking the milestone of another calendar year of hard work and success.

Here are 12 tips to mark that milestone with festive teambuilding – and to feed your defence should anything go awry:

  1. Delegate some of the planning to both an extravert and an introvert, to ensure a balanced approach to the party.  Word the invitations to staff in a way that is inclusive to all but that does not make attendance mandatory.
  2. Do not have your own staff serve the drinks – it’s also always easier to cut off a stranger than a friend or worse, a supervisor.
  3. Avoid an open bar with a free-for-all, unmonitored approach.  Consider drink tickets or providing the first couple of rounds only so that you can state in cross-examination how many drinks were officially provided to guests.
  4. Serve real food, not just snacks.
  5. Oh social media. Where to begin. Showing you have a vibrant, fun workplace is one thing (so lots of civilized group shots on the company Facebook page the next day), but over-the-top hammered pictures will always come back to haunt you and your staff. A friendly reminder in the invite and also in an email the afternoon of the party advising staff to avoid over-posting on personal social sites is one option. If you have a particularly post-friendly workplace, you may need to also delegate someone to keep an eye on posts that reference the company name the night of, so that more embarrassing posts can be removed or responded to quickly.
  6. Serve non-alcoholic drink options – not just water or pop.
  7. Don’t serve free alcohol until the wee hours.  Wrap up the free booze before midnight, a couple of hours before the end of the party.
  8. Appoint someone to discretely keep an eye on over-drinking, and to cut people off before it’s too late.
  9. Order lots of Uber, hand out taxi chits freely and consider hotel rooms. These are some of your strongest defences and easiest way to avoid anyone driving.
  10. Never let an employee who drank alcohol drive home.  Turning a blind eye or not asking questions or respecting their privacy/dignity is not an option – if that person gets in an accident on the way home, you are liable as host of the party, even if the party is at a third party restaurant.  If the person pops into another bar on the way home first, you may still be at least partially liable for the contribution of the first several rounds of drinks.
  11. Be mindful of any employees you think may have a drug or alcohol issue.  Addictions are a disability under Canadian human rights law.  Some employees may otherwise have bad experiences with drug or alcohol in their personal lives or be dealing with unrelated but difficult issues at home, and are just not in the mood for a big party.  Avoid pressuring staff to come to the holiday party, and consider marking year end milestones in a variety of ways, not just at the end of a long night of festivities.
  12. As the owner, take a look around throughout the night and make sure all your staff feel included and part of the action.  Loud, drunk staff parties can be very difficult, awkward or just plain boring to some employees, but those very well could be your best contributors who you really want to thank the most for the past year’s achievements.