By: Amy Dozier on November 20th, 2013

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10 Ways to Avoid Problems at Your Company Holiday Party This Year

What happened to 2013?  I cannot believe it is already November!  Before we know it everyone will be hosting their holiday parties and we will be watching the ball drop and welcoming in the New Year!

As an HR Professional, I am never sure if I should be excited for or dread the company holiday party.  Even if HR is not planning the party, there are still lots of things for HR and the leadership team to consider as your company prepares for the event.

The Number One Concern When Planning Company Events

One of the first questions asked about company events is always whether or not alcohol should be served. It is almost inevitable that someone at the holiday party is going to drink too much, start dancing on the tables, and get sick in the bathroom.  If they remember the evening, they will be extremely embarrassed coming into work the next day and might even call out to delay having to face their colleagues.  I can only hope that a little embarrassment is the worst thing that happens; but unfortunately, too often employees drink too much and create more than just embarrassing situations.

Potential Problems with Serving Alcohol at Holiday Party

Way too often alcohol at holiday parties has led to employee complaints and harassment claims.  Just because it didn’t happen on work time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously.  It should be investigated like any other claim that is brought to your attention. There are also safety considerations.  As the host, the company can be held liable for any injuries that result from intoxicated guests – that includes drunk driving.

I know what you are thinking: those stuffy HR people take the fun out of everything!  I am not saying don’t serve alcohol at your company event; but if you do choose to serve it, consider some of the following ideas to help ensure a successful, fun, and safe party. 

Top 10 Ways to Host a Successful Holiday Party

  1. Remind employees before the event that even though they are not at work, they still need to act professionally.  Their boss and coworkers will remember what happened and it may impact the level of respect they get in the workplace.
  2. Make sure managers know the expectation and help set the example for a fun but safe environment for all party attendees.
  3. Provide a limited number of drink tickets to each attendee – common practice is 2 tickets.
  4. Have a cash bar instead of an open bar.
  5. Serve a full dinner, not just hor’dourves.
  6. Make sure the bartenders know to cut someone off if they are getting a little too “happy”.
  7. Have a valet who will not return the car keys to someone who looks like they have had too much to drink.
  8. Offer to pay for a taxi to those who need it or hold the event near public transportation.
  9. Provide hotel rooms encouraging people to stay the night instead of driving home (I hesitate to include this one because although you are protecting employees from driving drunk, you may be inviting them to do something that could lead to a harassment claim).
  10. Start the party early so it can end early.


HR should not be the party police, but the reality is any problem that occurs at the party, will most likely hit your desk the next day.  Be proactive by making sure the party planners understand the potential liabilities to help protect your employees and the company.  Here are a few final thoughts to keep in mind as you plan your holiday party:

  • Think about the message you want to send to employees.  If you host a lavish party, employees may resent the fact that you are spending money on the event, but you froze their pay.
  • Even though your party may be held around the holidays, I recommend calling it a “Holiday Gathering” and to have decorations that are not tied to just one religious belief.  Make sure the event is one that everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, will feel comfortable attending.
  • Is this an event that you want to be employee-only or can they invite significant others?  What about their kids?
  • Remember why you are throwing a party – it is a way to show your appreciation and to help engage your workforce.  Make it an event that employees will be looking forward to and talking about.


Now that I have shared potential problems that could occur at your next holiday party and tips on how to avoid them, you should be well prepared to have a safe, fun and successful event. Wishing you a very happy holiday!