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Office holiday parties — 2020 style

2020

Is your law firm or business planning a holiday party this season? As labor and employment attorneys, lawyers at my firm have often been called on to advise employers about the dos and don’ts of corporate parties — how to avoid sexual harassment, how to keep your employees from overindulging. Not so much this year, simply because in-person holiday events just are not happening.

That does not mean the holiday party is dead, though. It’s just morphed into something that looks quite a bit like … work. Still, the holiday party is worth discussion, if only to lament its traditional absence this year.

My firm, based in Detroit, often celebrated holidays at local landmark restaurants or attractions. This year, wanting to heed the Fast Company headline advice to “plan a virtual holiday office party that doesn’t suck” — while keeping in mind a survey statistic I saw on LinkedIn where 45% of respondents said “no way” would they want to attend a virtual office party and 15% saying “it depends” — we are forging ahead. The holiday party was simply too much a part of our firm traditions to let it go.

So our plan is to host a virtual gathering one weekday evening from 5 to 7 p.m. that I actually think will be fun — but not so much fun that I want it to become a tradition, of course.

The cocktail party will begin with a home-delivered basket of cocktail fixings and appetizers to consume during the party, including enough for the employee plus a significant other. We are offering breakout rooms for smaller conversations between colleagues who have not been together for a while, as well as holiday “tours” of employee’s decorated homes or holiday-costumed pets — completely optional participation, of course.

That we are employment lawyers makes it hard to not also offer some advice to employers on virtual work parties, so here goes:

Attendance at any party should not be mandatory, and there should be no negative consequences for those who choose not to participate.

You need to keep on eye (and ear) on the conversations, so language or discussion topics don’t veer into territory that could be offensive to employees or in any way be deemed as harassment of any form. No Jeffrey Toobin moments, please.

Remind employees to be aware of what their screens are showing — perhaps not a great idea to join the virtual party from the garage or bathroom.

Senior management and HR representatives from the organization should attend the party, follow all company policies and set an example for the organization.

Remind employees that while the holiday party is meant to celebrate the season and their contributions during the past year, the event is still a business function and inappropriate behavior may result in discipline, including termination.

Remind attendees in advance of the celebration that the company’s social media policy applies at the event, and that actions will be taken against those who don’t follow the spirit of the policy. 

Cheers to all! Let’s toast to a return to normalcy at some point in 2021!

Deborah Brouwer is co-managing partner of the Detroit-based labor and employment law firm, Nemeth Law.

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