Oh, joy. It's that time of the year again—Christmas in the city. That means the huge tree is up at Rockefeller Center, the city is sparkling with lights, and the tourists have taken over every inch of midtown Manhattan.
It's also time for the annual office holiday party. At every firm, there's someone who's tasked with the thankless job of keeping the party under control—lest the Bad Santas get out of the bag.
I much prefer a raucous party where the stuffed shirts go completely out of control—preferably doing something incredibly lewd that will result in a YouTube sensation.
That's my idea of holiday fun. Sadly, though, everyone is so uptight these days.
Though I'm loath to do so, it is my duty to give you the do's and don'ts (actually, just "don'ts") of office parties. So here's my annual refresher on how to throw a perfectly blah, humbug holiday fete:
1. First, remind people that the office party is no time for fun:
Send a stern memo to employees that the holiday party is a
business function, and upright behavior is expected.
2. Say it again: Do not have fun: Circulate the antiharassment policy before the event. Tell them that means no touching and no jokes involving sex, race, religion, politics, or anything genuinely funny. (Seriously, don't have fun.)
3. Invite spouses—just to make sure it's really joyless: "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. Confiscate all cell phones. This is to ensure that there will be no unauthorized images taken in case dancing erupts.
7. Snip the mistletoe. See reason number 5.
8. Unplug the Xerox machines. Many employment lawyers advise off-premise parties 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.")
9. 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.
A version of the above post was published December 2, 2011.