This time of the year, I'm usually flooded with invitations to law firm holiday parties. But this year it looks like I'm banished from the cheer, because I'm not getting any invitations. (Is it that law firms are cutting back because of the economy? Or am I no longer on their favored nations list?)
Instead, my mailbox is flooded with e-mails from employment lawyers offering cautionary tales about the perils of holiday parties and advice on how law firms and companies can keep a lid on their holiday parties.
I much prefer having the lid blown off. Sadly, though, my job is to help keep you gainfully employed and law firms humming along. So here's a refresher about the rules of holiday party throwing (some of the advice previously appeared in The Careerist--see "Keep Bad Santa on a Leash"):
1. Remind employees that the office party is no time for fun: Send a stern memo reminding employees that the holiday party is a business-related function, and appropriate conduct is expected.
2. Tell them again you're serious about not having fun: Circulate the antiharassment policy before the event and remind everyone that the policy covers the party, and includes offensive touching and jokes, such as those that involve sexual, racial, or ethnic subjects. (Seriously, don't have fun.)
3. To make sure it's really joyless, invite spouses: "Employees may be more reserved and less likely to engage in offensive behavior when accompanied by their significant others," says former employment lawyer Kate Bally, who now works at Practical Law Company, a knowledge management company.
4. Ban anatomically correct chocolate. No suggestive or offensive gag gifts, provocative decorations, or risqué entertainment--or anything else that might invite a sexual harassment suit.
5. Kill the slow dance music. It's best to avoid situations that could spark rumors about office romances, says Nigel Telman, an employment partner at Proskauer Rose. (Personally, I'd go a step further and forbid all dancing. Dancing lawyers are a pathetic sight.)
6. Snip the mistletoe. See reason number 5.
7. Unplug the Xerox machines. Many employment lawyers think it's best to hold parties off-premise to avoid liability. But if you're holding the party in your office, make sure that employees know it's not acceptable to photocopy their body parts during the party, advices Out-law.com, a site run by the U.K. law firm of Pinsent Masons. (U.K. firms must have rowdier parties, because Pinsent Masons also warns, "Don't ignore drugs in the loo.")
8. Keep the decorations spartan. "Party balloons can kill: Around 3.6 million people in Britain suffer from some degree of latex allergy," says Out-law.com. The site offers other tips: "Use paper cups, not glasses; move computers out of range of spillages; and avoid indoor fireworks, flaming puddings, candles, and smoking."
It's a sad day when even the flaming pudding must go.
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