The upcoming holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year, but it all poses challenges to entrepreneurs of all sizes. Yes, there are risks. What good does not come with some risk? But most of the legal and employee relations risks can be mitigated with some thoughtful planning. So here’s a checklist of issues to minimize the risk that your December celebrations will result in January claims.
1. Don’t eliminate Christmas.
Don’t eliminate Christmas from the holiday season, says this Jewish guy. It’s a beautiful holiday that should be celebrated. And a Christmas tree is just fine, too! But what about those who don’t celebrate Christmas? Read on.
2. Include other holidays.
It’s about inclusion, not exclusion. Rather than excluding Christmas, recognize other holidays, such as Hanukkah and Kwanza. Consider a menorah and Kwanza basket along with the Christmas tree! No lit candles, please.
3. What holiday did you forget?
You don’t know what you don’t know. Profound. So, ask. Ask employees if there is a holiday that they would like to see included in the celebration (and that includes decorations). By asking, I learned that the Buddhist holiday of Bodhi Day falls on December 8.
4. What about those who don’t celebrate?
Some employees celebrate holidays at different times of year. Some don’t celebrate holidays at all.
This does not mean we should nix the season celebration. It does mean we should reference in our communications those who may not feel part of the seasonal celebrations. I will try to do just that at the end of this checklist.
5. What should you call your party?
"Holiday party" is the most inclusive term. Make your party more inclusive by having decorations and music reflect diverse holidays. Think about your choice of decorations and songs. Those that are religious are more appropriate for religious celebrations (or for religious employers).
What if someone is offended by Jingle Bells? May that be his or her biggest problem in life!
6. Should you serve alcohol?
Never serve it to minors. As for adults, take steps to minimize abuse, such as limiting drinks or even making employees pay and then donating the money to charity.
Even with restrictions, assume some people will abuse the alcohol you serve. Consider having cab vouchers ready for them.
7. What about harassment?
December parties inevitably bring January claims, about wandering hands, loose lips and . . . I’ll stop there.
Remind your employees that your harassment policy applies to the party. And make sure to name “designated watchers.”
8. What about the 'after party'?
No good comes from after parties, unless you consider paying for a plaintiffs’ lawyer’s summer home. Don’t go. And make clear you are not sponsoring any after-party and not allowing employer money to be used for it.
9. How about gifts?
Here, too, anticipate the inappropriate. Remind employees that your harassment policy applies here, too.
Stay away from sexual or suggestive clothing, for example. Rule of thumb: If the gift is appropriate primarily for someone whom you date, don’t give it to an employee.
10. What about greetings?
It's best to be general with your holiday greetings unless you know otherwise. The default should be "Happy Holidays." But if you know someone is Christian, by all means wish that person a Merry Christmas. I know I do.
And I like when people wish me a "Happy Hanukkah" because they know I am Jewish. I am less thrilled if they are making assumptions.
Make sure your employees don’t guess or assume anyone’s faith. You can get into hot water only if you are right or wrong.
11. What about charity?
Holidays are a diversity challenge. Be up to it. But find a common bond, such as charity. Charity includes not only people in need but our four-legged friends. I guess I haven’t hidden my “pet” charity very well.
12. Don’t forget the FLSA.
I know: Even now, during the holidays? But, yes, Fair Labor Standards Act regulations apply all year long. So, don’t require or strongly suggest that employees attend parties outside of working hours. If you do, you may have to pay! Plus, if people don’t want to come, do you really want them there? No!
13. Allow for time off.
We all work too hard. And most entrepreneurs and professionals work even when they're on that long three-day vacation (which, of course, includes the weekend). So, allow yourself some down time. Note to self: Re-read prior sentence.
And, try to do the same for your employees. There is plenty of time in January not to have a life.
So how do I end? How’s this:
If you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday that corresponds with your faith. If you celebrate another holiday, I apologize for not referencing it by name, but I wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday, too. If you celebrate no holidays or a holiday at another time of year, I wish you well, just the same.
With all the difficulties that can accompany the holidays in the workplace, it's a time to remember how lucky we are to be alive, and to love and to be loved. Yes, the holidays are truly the most wonderful time of the year. May peace be with you. Shalom!