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Happy Holidays, from Human ResourcesAuthored by: Jeremy A. Stephenson
December 15, 2017

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Practices

As Thanksgiving 2017 recedes into a memory, Hanukkah is here, Christmas just around the corner, and a strange slow week between a Monday Christmas and following Monday New Year’s Day. It is the season for office holiday parties, and ugly sweater contests. Every day a new name comes across the news as an alleged sexual harasser suspended or terminated from high profile employment and hopefully with such daily headlines everyone will be on their guard a little bit more this year. Just in case, we give you this short list of Do’s and Don’ts to get you through the holidays without giving rise to legal liability.

(1)        “No mistletoe at the office.” Too easy? At your office holiday party, consider inviting  family, spouses, even kids, as they may deter inappropriate behavior of the sexual harassment variety. 

(2)        “Liquor liability as social host.” Most state laws permit a negligence lawsuit against a social host who provides alcohol to someone they knew or should have known was intoxicated, and knew or should have known would be driving, who then injures a person or property while driving intoxicated. If you serve alcohol at your office holiday party, consider some means to limit alcohol consumption, such as drink tickets, or hire a professional server with an authentic certificate of liability insurance, or simply keep an eye on your friends and co-workers and if they seem overserved, step in and find them a safe ride home.  Uber has never been easier.

(3)        “Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that’s OK.” If you want to wish your work colleagues “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays”, go right ahead. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion, defined as hostile work environment or adverse employment action discrimination; wishing someone “Merry Christmas” is neither. Obviously do not discriminate against employees, berate or fire them because of their religious beliefs, but this does not mean a private employer must have a complete absence of any and all religion at the holidays. 

(4)        “Schedule by business necessity.” Hopefully you figured out your holiday work schedules for your office many months ago. Many businesses such as hospitals are required to be open on Christmas Day. Title VII also requires “reasonable accommodation of bona fide religious beliefs”, but not in the event of “undue hardship.” You do not need to give every employee Christmas Day off of work if it would present an undue hardship to your business. Christmas on a Monday in 2017 presents a strange work week for many businesses; might you consider giving employees extra paid days off to save on the light bill? Evaluate the work load your business has during this week to determine if this is an option for consideration. Happy loyal employees are less likely to make liability claims!