Planning a Company Holiday Party?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018
‘Tis the season….the season for parties galore!  Whether you’re planning the whole thing or just “policing” it, the Company Holiday Party can be  fun for everyone – even if you’re in HR!  We’ve worked up some tips to make the party less of a liability for your company (and therefore less of a headache for you) and maybe even more fun for your employees, too!

Find Your Date

Before finalizing the date of your party, make sure you aren’t scheduling it on holiday! Remember, you want your holiday party to be inclusive, and if you schedule it during Chanukkah or Kwanzaa you could be excluding members of your staff who would otherwise like to attend. Holidays this December include:

  • Chanukkah from December 2-10
  • Winter Solstice December 21
  • Kwanzaa from December 26 through January 1
  • Christmas Eve December 24
  • Christmas Day December 25
  • Boxing Day December 26
  • Avoid New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as well

Contain that Holiday Spirit

In our perfect HR world, there’s no alcohol at any company event. Realistically,  however, there will be *some* alcohol at the holiday party. And realistically, we don’t have to tell you that alcohol is related to A LOT of HR complaints! So how do you strike the balance here? A couple ways:

  • Hire a caterer/bartender. A professional bartender can cut the alcohol supply to someone who is visibly intoxicated without you being the “bad guy.” Be sure to talk with the staff for the evening to make sure they know this is a company party and they should err on the side of caution in this department!
  • Limited Drink Tickets. Give employees a set number of drink tickets…after that, drinks are on their dime. Employees are less likely to drink too much if they have to purchase them.

Take it Outside the Office

Holding the event itself outside the office cuts your Company’s liability and makes it more enticing and fun for employees as well. Hiring a caterer keeps food off your “liability plate” and makes it easy to ensure there are munchies available prior to the main course being served. And if you aren’t serving a full meal, at least spring for some heavy appetizers because food slows down that alcohol absorption! (See how it all comes back to the alcohol?)


Accommodate Everyone

Not just mean in an HR accommodation way; hopefully you’re doing that already. But if you’re serving alcohol, be sure you’re providing your employees a safe way to get home:

  • Encourage carpools
  • Offer a (valuable!) prize to designated drivers
  • Hold the event at a hotel and get a discounted block of rooms for people to stay the night (or hold the party elsewhere but find a hotel nearby)
  • Hire a shuttle bus if you have a concentration of employees who all live near each other
  • Permit employees to expense a taxi, Uber, Lyft, bus, train tickets or other fares to and from the party


Don’t make this into a Christmas party, and therefore a discriminatory party, by using Santa and Christmas tree decor.  Winter-themed decorations (think snowflakes and hot chocolate) apply to everyone. And be SURE to leave OUT the mistletoe!

Prepare Your Staff

Send an email out before the party to remind employees of behavior expectations, dress code, and other pertinent details. (Parking, any last-minute changes, etc.)


Be clear about whether employees can bring a guest. Of course inviting guests will increase your spend on the party, but having spouses/significant others/children attend as well can significantly cut the “bad behavior.”

  • Don’t dicate who a person can bring to the party: spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, best friend – it shouldn’t matter. You may let them know if they are limited to one guest.
  • If your party is being held at a bar, then no one under 21 will be able to enter. Be sure your employees (and their guests) are all over 21 in this case.
  • Alternatively, are you having a family event? Be clear with employees about what your party is (and is not.) If it’s a family party, you may want to limit the guests to immediate family only – remember for some this may mean spouse and kids – others may want to bring their own parents or siblings. Be flexible!

Show Me the Money

We do not recommend making your holiday party a mandatory event. However, if you do, remember that non-exempt employees must be paid for their time at the party. Overtime rules still apply! You do not have to pay an employee to attend the party if it is an optional event.


Some employees, you know which ones, will be more than happy to play “police” and keep an eye on what’s happening at the party. You can’t be everywhere at once, and frankly if people are up to no good, they’ll avoid you anyway! If anyone reports an incident to you, be sure they know it’s up to the HR team to investigate the situation and not them.  Don’t pressure employees into policing the party! The goal is for everyone to enjoy themselves, not feel pressured to “tattletale” on their coworkers.


And finally, should anyone report anything to you at all, investigate it right away. Don’t chalk it up to “holiday party shenanigans.” You need to take anything that is reported to you from the party just as seriously as you would take something that happens on a Wednesday afternoon in a conference room.

Remember to have fun at this party too! You should also celebrate your hard work during the year, just do it wisely!