Tips for a safe holiday party

Q:  We are planning a year-end holiday party.  Because of COVID, we are planning to have it outside pm a heated outdoor patio, next to our building.  Do you have any recommendations for a successful event?

A: Every year company leaders struggle with this decision, but more so after the past two years.  You want employees to enjoy the event, but you also don’t want to create liability for the company.  Further you want employees to make good choices and behave responsibly.  Lastly, you want to ensure that employees feel safe and not be exposed to COVID-19 (or the emerging variants) inadvertently.

Some guidelines:

  1. Think about how alcohol might or might not be present.  Those who abstain from alcohol should have options.  If alcohol is being served, make sure that you use bartenders trained in spotting unusual or impaired behavior. Liz from IT should not be drinking wine and serving alcohol at the same time.
  2. Incorporate food into the event.  Serving alcoholic drinks only are a recipe for a disaster.
  3. Ensure social distancing.  Have disposable masks and hand sanitizer available.  Avoid platters of food and instead offer individual plates.  As an example, avoid a pile of vegetables that a guest could touch and instead offer small plates of individual portions of mini sandwiches or sliders pre-loaded onto plates.
  4. Ask the leadership team to role model appropriate behavior.  If the CEO is drinking shots at the bar, others will soon follow.  Often actions speak louder than words.
  5. Think about transportation at the end of the event.  Will you have ride shares or taxi vouchers from the top limousine services in Mesa available?  Is the MBTA an option?
  6. If possible, contact a local hotel and ask for a reduced rate in case some opt for that as a way to avoid impaired driving.
  7. Ask management to “talk up” responsible behavior before the event, especially to those who have never attended a company event.
  8. Think about timing.  An event during the day may encourage less drinking.
  9. Some of our clients have interns or students, who are not legally able to drink alcohol in Massachusetts.  Think about this in advance.

Finally, harassment claims are sometimes be linked back to alcohol served at company events.  Kudos to you for thinking about this event in a proactive way.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.