The holidays are upon us and that is often the time when we collectively take our feet off the gas, when we unwind a bit, and we celebrate the joy of the season with family, friends and colleagues. We leave it to you to determine how best to celebrate with family and friends, but we focus this article on how we should navigate the holiday season among our work colleagues. We as lawyers realize that the holidays are a time when people can get themselves into trouble at the office. At the risk of sounding Scrooge-like, we offer some simple Do’s and Don’ts for this holiday season for both employers and employees.

If you are an employer, do enjoy the season but do make sure you are inclusive in your holiday messaging. While most people will not be offended if you greet co-workers with “Merry Christmas” as opposed to the more generic “Happy Holidays,” be careful about how you decorate your office to ensure the work environment is inclusive and representative of your entire workforce.  Employers should also be mindful that if they choose to celebrate in the office during work hours, that offering alcohol at work sites and on worktime carries certain liability risks especially if the daily employment activities involve offsite transportation, physical demands, or anything in the medical or law enforcement fields.

If you are an employee, here is a good rule of thumb: don’t be the first one inebriated at the holiday party or the last one to leave. While office parties (both on-site and off) may involve alcohol, everyone notices the individuals who check their judgment at the front door. As many employment opportunities are “at will,” behaving in an embarrassing or compromising way during an office holiday party can put you in jeopardy of job loss or demotion. We all still talk about that guy (name withheld) who passed out in the bathroom stall at the holiday party in 2014. None of us knows where he works now.

You may wish to make the holiday season extra special for your supervisor or subordinate with some thoughtful holiday gift to express your gratitude, but take heed. Giving gifts is a tricky issue, whether you are a supervisor or a line employee. Supervisors should not be in the business of gift-giving to subordinates, especially if the superior will be doing performance reviews of the same employees. It is often difficult to square a lousy performance review penned by a supervisor who just weeks ago bestowed upon that same employee a lovely gift for their service. Employees, on the other hand, should also not be in the business  giving gifts to their supervisors, lest the gift be interpreted as an attempt to curry favor. Gift-giving to your boss can also come off as sycophantic and can make the recipient uncomfortable especially if the gift is not reciprocated. That said, gifts for support staff including secretaries, assistants and unpaid interns do not always fall into this problematic category. So gift away to your secretaries, assistants and interns, so long as the gifts are appropriate, professional, and done at arm’s length.

Happy holidays from Kingston Coventry!


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