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Should you have a workplace holiday party?

So much is written in the media each year reminding (and warning) employers of the potential liabilities of hosting a holiday party for employees, that, as a lawyer, I wonder why an employer would take on such potential liability. The benefit to an employer of having such an event would have to be significant to justify such risks.

But is there any benefit?

A quick internet search indicates that employees don’t really enjoy such events and feel they are required to attend in order to maintain a career trajectory, whether they wish to or not. Studies also show that employees would rather have the money otherwise spent on a holiday party as a bonus or equivalent gift from the employer. Of those who want holiday parties, it appears to be the open bar that appeals to them, which is exactly the behaviour employers are trying discourage.

A 2012 survey of employees by Glassdoor, Employees’ Top Resolutions for 2013 & Preferred Holiday Perks (November 30, 2012, glassdoor.com) concluded that of those surveyed (2000+ adult employees in the United States) 73 percent wanted a cash bonus as a holiday perk, 60 percent wanted a salary raise, 36 percent wanted paid time off, and 29% wanted a grocery gift card, as opposed to only 5 percent wanting a holiday party (with an open bar, of course).

Even though some employers may believe that a holiday party is necessary to boost employee morale, it may, in fact, do the opposite if there have been any layoffs or other cutbacks at the workplace during the year. In addition, with an increasingly diverse workplace, hosting a holiday party in which people of all cultures and faiths feel comfortable is increasingly challenging. Some faiths prohibit any participation in another religion’s celebrations, while others may be uncomfortable in (or prohibited from) a setting in which alcohol is served.

Employers can still show employees that they wish to celebrate the holidays (and be generous) in many ways which don’t include a holiday party. It may be a good idea for employers to survey employees about how they wish to celebrate the holidays at the workplace. Ideas upon which to invite input include donating the funds (otherwise spent on a party) to an employee-chosen charity, toy collection for charity, lunch-time potlucks or catered event, raffle among employees for a few “larger” gifts, in addition to the monetary options noted above.

For those employers who still wish to accept the challenge of the holiday party – I recommend a review of my blog posting from last November Workplace policies to avoid the holiday party hangover.

Consult the First Reference’s Human Resources PolicyPro® for a discussion of this issue and a sample policy on Alcohol in the Workplace or Conduct and Behaviour tailored to each Canadian jurisdiction (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba & Saskatchewan, Ontario, Atlantic and Quebec Editions).

Michele Glassford
Editor of Human Resources PolicyPro published
by First Reference Inc

Human Resources PolicyPro

Human Resources PolicyPro

With Human Resources PolicyPro all of the researching, writing, and formatting is done for you! This all-in-one policy-building resource offers not only sample policies but also commentaries and related precedents to help you understand each policy in the context of relevant legislative requirements.

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Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more
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