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What Employees Need to Know about Holiday Celebrations at Work

It’s that time of year when people take a step back from their usual routine and focus on celebrating the holidays and the end of the year. In many companies, this means the annual holiday party. Whether your employer plans a festive and extravagant celebration in the spirit of the season or there is nothing more than a quiet lunch catered into the office in observance of the holidays, it’s important to understand what’s appropriate and inappropriate at these events.

Many holiday celebrations in the workplace are viewed as team-building exercises. The holidays are a great time to bring everyone together outside of the usual work environment. Events can be mandatory or voluntary, and as such, have various guidelines concerning employer responsibility. If your employer expects you to attend a holiday celebration, the company is responsible for what goes on at that celebration, and unfortunately, that can lead to a legal dispute between employee and employer.

Some of the most common occurrences at holiday parties that trigger legal action include:

Sexual Harassment

It’s expected that holiday celebrations will be relaxed and offer an opportunity for employees to “let their hair down” out of the normal work environment. However, despite this relaxed environment, everyone still needs to feel comfortable and safe. Employers should make an effort to limit the flow of alcohol and not plan any activities that could spin out of control. Gift exchanges should have specific and detailed instructions so gifts are work-appropriate and games should not include any directives that could encourage inappropriate touching.

Employers might also be held responsible for injuries that occur at holiday parties. This not only applies to injuries on the workplace premises, but also at events held off-site, as well as on the roads coming and going from the event. It’s possible an employer could be responsible if an employee attends a holiday celebrations, consumes too much alcohol, and causes an accident on the way home from the party.

Seeking Legal Advice

If you are injured as the result of attendance at a holiday party, it’s best to seek the advice of a legal professional. Laws vary from state to state and every circumstance is different, so an attorney can review the details of your situation and determine whether or not your employer is responsible for your injuries.

An attorney will ask you a variety of questions to determine whether or not a holiday celebration was a social or work-related event, which will be a factor in the legal responsibility your employer has concerning the event. For this reason, most employers make it clear whether or not an event is mandatory. Pay attention to whether invitations and comments about a holiday event encourage you to attend as a stipulation of employment or advancement in the company. Will you be paid to attend the event or will there be work-related activities occurring at the event? These things place a greater burden of responsibility on your employer.

It’s also important to consider whether an event was held on-site or off-site, and whether or not it was held during standard work hours. Voluntary events held off-site during weekend hours are viewed as social events and take some of the burden off the employer if legal issues arise.

If you believe events that occurred at a workplace holiday celebration crossed the line, we can help. Contact New York Employment Lawyers Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.


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