The Dos and Don'ts of Company Holiday Parties

The Dos and Donts of Company Holiday Parties

Your employees are ready to party it up this holiday season! A company party is a perfect opportunity to build some camaraderie and reward your employees for a great year.

But holiday parties can also get a bit out of control. So let’s prevent a holiday headache for your HR department and look at some dos and don’ts to keep in mind this season.

DON’T make it mandatory.

Don’t be a grinch about it and require employees to attend. Holiday parties should be voluntary. Your employees have many responsibilities outside the workplace and shouldn’t feel bad about not being able to attend.

Plus, holiday parties shouldn’t be considered paid work hours under the Fair Labor Standards Act. If the party happens during unpaid hours you won’t be exposed to workers’ compensation claims if someone is hurt.

Put out the word that the holiday party is a time for enjoyment and relaxation, where you can leave work at the door. This sets the stage for a festive and fun event.

DO think carefully before allowing spouses/children.

If you invite just your team, and not their spouses and kids, it’s a bit more intimate. On the other hand, welcoming your employees’ families is good for morale and encourages everyone to act appropriately at the party. And if you’re a family-owned company, a family-friendly party might feel like it’s in the right spirit.

Some companies solve this dilemma by inviting spouses, but not kids. If you decide to go this route, phrase it in a positive way in your party invitation. “Leave the kids at home for a fun night out with your spouse!”

DON’T offer open/self-service alcohol.

Many people enjoy a glass of champagne or spiked eggnog during the holidays, but should you allow alcohol at your office event? It depends.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Serving alcohol can cause liability risk for the business.
  • If you do plan to have alcohol, control the situation with the help of a professional caterer/bartender who will follow the law by checking IDs, serving safe amounts, etc.
  • Follow a drink ticketing system, for example with a two-drink maximum.
  • Plan ahead with an Uber offer from the company to get people home safely.
  • A workaround can be a holiday luncheon without alcohol.

DO offer food

Food is almost always a part of holiday parties and puts people in a festive mood. Who doesn’t love to eat?! If you’re serving alcohol, definitely serve food so people don’t drink on an empty stomach.

Pitch-ins are fun, but remember: They shouldn’t be mandatory because they cost employees money. It’s better to hire a caterer.

DO include some fun activities.

Offer some festive activities that will get everyone in a partying mood. Play bingo, trivia, or even charades with holiday-themed clues.

Games give everyone permission to be a bit silly and enjoy the holidays. They also get everyone engaged with their fellow team members, which can have a positive effect long after the season is over.

DON’T encourage bad behavior.

Send out an invitation that manages everyone’s expectations. Here are some points to include:

  • Describe where and when it will take place
  • List the events that will be happening
  • Remind people to make good decisions/dress appropriately (dress as if you’re visiting your Grandmother!)

At the party, don’t hang mistletoe because it invites sexual harassment. Similarly, don’t have a photo booth because it could potentially encourage some inappropriate behavior.

DO be inclusive of culture/religion.

It’s not a Christmas party. It’s a holiday party or year-end celebration and it welcomes people of all backgrounds to come together and celebrate. If you’d like to sidestep the issue of culture/religion, call it your Year-End Party and celebrate a great year at the company.

DO consult an expert, when in doubt.

If you’re concerned about your HR duties and roles in preparing a holiday party, consult with an expert HR firm in advance.


Happy holidays from The O’Connor Group! We hope you have fun and stay safe during the holidays!