It is that time of the year again – employment law firms put out their blog articles on employer best practices for the annual holiday party. This year, however, things are different. The usual concerns around managing alcohol consumption, ensuring appropriate behaviour, and getting everyone home safely will take somewhat of a backseat.
In fact, some employers have opted to simply cancel the event this year. Those that are still going ahead may be opting to go virtual or be considering outdoor events.
If you are planning a workplace holiday party this month here is our list of “best practices”:
- Consider a virtual event – These offer the obvious benefit of allowing staff to attend a get-together while avoiding the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Platforms like Zoom will allow staff to play an organized game, hold an “ugly sweater competition” and have a drink together and chat (other ideas for a virtual event can be found here). In addition, it provides an opportunity for the company to thank their employees and pass on a message direct from senior management. The obvious downside to this approach is the “Zoom fatigue” which many employees are now feeling. For some staff it has been 9 months of sitting in home offices with meeting after virtual meeting.
- Consider an outdoor event – Depending on where you are in the province, and what local gathering size restrictions apply, it may be feasible to organize an outdoor socially-distanced staff gathering. This approach has the benefit of providing staff with some of the “in-person” interaction many of us may be craving at this point, but doing so in a safe manner. That said, if opting for this approach, it is best practice to simultaneously offer an alternate virtual event, so as to avoid excluding staff who feel uncomfortable attending in person. Also, employers should ensure they are up to date with current public health guidelines and that staff are informed in advance of the event as to expectations regarding to mask use, maintaining social distancing, etc.
- Think outside the box – A further option may be to avoid both the large virtual event and any outdoor gathering (it is December in Canada after all) and instead look for something novel and fun that will be well-received by staff at the end of a very difficult year. For example, some employers have organized online cooking classes, virtual wine tasting or simply sent gifts to employees (using the money that would otherwise have gone towards a traditional Holiday Party).
- Accommodate all participants – Depending on when in the day a virtual or outdoor event is being held, not all workers may be able to attend. For instance, with limited childcare options, it is now harder than ever for many parents to attend at non-essential meetings. As such, employers should be mindful of any accommodation requirements that are necessary when planning a holiday event and ensure participation is not limited to a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.
- Put an emphasis on inclusion – Along with the pandemic, 2020 was also the year that movements like Black Lives Matter put a spotlight on the need to build a more equal society. Employers can play their part this holiday season by ensuring events are planned with inclusion in mind. This can happen in several different ways, from ensuring that all cultural and belief systems are respected to making sure any food and drink offered reflect individual dietary, religious and personal beliefs.
- Set expectations – While holiday parties in 2020 may not look like they used to, they are still work events. Accordingly, employers need to set, and communicate, acceptable conduct for participants. This can take a variety of different forms. For instance, if planning an event with alcohol, limit amounts offered (or sent) to workers to reduce the chance of intoxication. Remind staff of applicable rules and policies (such as those regarding workplace harassment) in advance of the big day. And finally, monitor employees during your event to ensure all participants are having a good time (while simultaneously allowing for intervention if misconduct is spotted).
Employers will have to get creative when trying to adapt holiday parties to reflect life during the pandemic. But with sufficient planning, foresight, and effort, there is no reason why employers cannot celebrate the festive season with staff while still respecting public health guidance. Happy holidays!
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