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Holiday party? Skip the mistletoe

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  • | 2:07 p.m. November 21, 2011
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This holiday season could be less jolly for some business leaders. That is if they don't heed the advice on company holiday parties Alva Cross preaches.

Cross, a labor and employment lawyer with the Tampa office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, says that costly sexual harassment, discrimination and assault suits are more commonplace at firms' holiday parties than business owners may think.

Cross has represented managers accused of harassment at these events due to simple missteps — such as hanging mistletoe. She says it may be festive, but could lead to sexual harassment accusations.

Other tips she has for business owners turned party planners include hiring a bartender instead of allowing an employee to shoulder drink-pouring duties. Also, to keep partygoers from becoming too festive, only beer and wine should be served, and an open bar is not a good idea. “You should have a cash bar or offer drink tickets,” she says. Also, food should always be included in party details.

Cross explains that having a plethora of non-alcoholic beverages is another way to avoid any lawsuit-inducing drunken behavior by staff. Displaying these drinks in tubs of ice throughout the party helps stave off a tipsy employee from returning to the bar.

Though some of Cross' advice may seem obvious to business owners and managers, she says any oversight in consideration of harassment or discrimination in planning a holiday bash could lead to hefty — though avoidable — legal costs.

“It seems so simple and common sense, but you would be amazed,” Cross says. “It's really important for employers to review their anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies on a yearly basis. And this time of the year is perfect.”

Correction: Alva Cross is a labor and employment lawyer with the Tampa office of Fisher & Phillips LLP.


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