Ask The Lawyer, How does the Grinch wreck your office holiday party?
HOW DOES THE GRINCH WRECK YOUR OFFICE HOLIDAY PARTY? WITH LITIGATION, OF COURSE!
Best holiday wishes to all our friends and clients! It’s that time of the year again where employers across the state begin planning their workplace holiday party. Our annual tradition is to post an article about some of the legal risks present at workplace celebrations. Every year we get questions about employee conduct at holiday parties. This year, as in years past, we have consolidated questions we have received from both employees and employers.
The holiday party is usually considered a work-related function. Over-consumption of alcohol is a recurring problem. Conduct that would be inappropriate at work, but which sometimes arises because of excessive alcohol consumption, can create future legal headaches. Sexually suggestive comments, unwanted touching, disrespectful conduct toward others, racially or culturally insensitive remarks, and unseemly attire are inappropriate at work and equally so at the holiday function. Inebriated supervisors who become overly-intrusive into an employee’s personal life or status put themselves at risk for discrimination or retaliation claims, especially where the supervisor makes comments about the employee’s gender, marital status, age, disability, or other protected category. Similarly, if you are an employee attending your workplace function, your continued employment and opportunities for advancement can be threatened by inappropriate behavior and/or immodest attire.
Alcohol consumption by guests should be monitored. If an employee is injured or in an accident because of excessive alcohol consumption or availability at a holiday party, the employee may be eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits. The employer could also be liable in the event of accident or injury where the employer allowed an inebriated guest to drive a motor vehicle and endanger the lives of others on the roads. Remember that guests at holiday office parties often take photographs, which are likely to be shared on social media – all the more reason to monitor excessive drinking. Employers should discourage and monitor conduct that leads, for example, to “bumping and grinding” or “twerking” on the dance floor.
Attendance at a holiday party should be voluntary, unless the event is held during work hours as part of a meeting or other work-related function. If the latter is the case, employees must be paid for the time at the party. Employees should not feel pressured to attend the event, or be given reason to believe that their absence from the party could result in diminished opportunities for professional advancement.
Office holiday parties should not emphasize religious beliefs, icons, or symbols. Guests who follow religious traditions other than those commonly associated with the holiday season may feel disrespected. The resentment that can build as a result of that disrespect, whether actual or perceived, often leads to employment issues down the road.
Be safe this holiday season, and remember that whether you are hosting or attending a workplace holiday party, employment law and workplace policies still apply.
The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinntauriainenlaw.com.
GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC, is a Troy based law firm representing clients from Warren, Sterling Heights, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Oakland and Wayne Counties and all of Southeast Michigan
ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3310 facsimile