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I’m often asked by friends and clients alike: “What advice do you have for holiday or end-of-year parties?” The first thing that comes to mind is “Don’t get drunk!” — but if you do, have a designated sober driver or use a car service to get home safely.
But as time has passed, my thoughts have led to a list of proactive ways to keep the fun and try to avoid the dangers of work parties. Here are my do’s and don’ts:
Do encourage your firm’s party planner to have “mocktails” (non-alcoholic) and cocktails equally available and encouraged.
Do ask to have tray-passed water as well as drinks and appetizers.
Do keep your “thinking business cap” on, comport yourself professionally and adhere to company policies — including harassment prevention and the dress code.
Do be mindful that you are still interacting with co-workers, and possibly their guests, so be respectful of different perspectives.
Don’t bring up hot button topics, politics or religion in an effort to be chatty or make conversation. Remember, there is a time and place for everything. End-of-year parties are about being thankful for everyone’s hard work throughout the year, and to raise morale.
Don’t give in to liquid courage. The holiday party is not the time to finally tell your co-worker how much you like him or her, or your boss how much you don’t.
Don’t be the innocent or unintentionally offensive or insensitive partygoer. If you are not the best at small talk, practice getting others to talk about themselves. They’ll love you!
Don’t wear anything too flashy or too revealing. Festive yet professional is the key.
Although the above is no guarantee there won’t be an issue during a holiday party, these do’s and don’ts will go a long way toward keeping you out of trouble. And who wants trouble at the workplace? That is never good.
Actions at a holiday party may not ultimately be illegal, discriminatory or harassing, but they may initiate an internal investigation that could result in discipline, including the possibility of termination. Many times, actions that get out of control at a firm event don’t lead to a lawsuit but they often lead to an internal investigation that concludes the actions were inappropriate, may or may not have violated firm policy, but nevertheless are actions that the firm does not condone.
And, if you are a supervisor, additional potential liability may attach, depending on your actions and your specific state laws.
Since lawyers are often also partners or part of the management of the firm, remember that you are well served to give a gentle reminder of the ground rules for upcoming events. It could include a reminder to drink responsibly (to those who choose to imbibe), and that dress codes, rules prohibiting harassment, and even general professional behavior guidelines will still be enforced.
And with all this said, now — have fun!
Michelle Lee Flores practices employment law in the Los Angeles office of Cozen O’Connor. She focuses on all aspects of employment litigation. Michelle earned her law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law and her bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Arizona State University.
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