Fewer Holiday Parties Due In Part to #MeToo, Study Finds

According to a recent study, only 65% of companies intend to throw a holiday party this year. These numbers haven’t been this low since we were in the midst of the Great Recession, when only 62% of companies planned to hold a holiday party for employees. For comparison, in 2017, 73% of companies were planning year-end holiday celebrations.

The low number of holiday celebrations in 2018 does not appear to be due to economic reasons—which was the case in 2009. The vast majority of companies surveyed reported a better economy than the year prior. So, what could explain the decline?

The #MeToo movement, which gained nationwide attention last October, appears to have played a role in the decision to hold a holiday party in 2018 and how to celebrate.

When asked whether #MeToo caused concerns about inappropriate holiday celebrations, 27% of companies reported that yes, it was a concern, but they had addressed the issue over the last year and were taking precautions prior to any holiday celebrations; 24% of companies reported that they do not have concerns because they have addressed the issue with staff at some point during the year.

Perhaps as a response to #MeToo and to avoid liability, more companies report that they will be holding holiday celebrations on company premises (39%) and during the workday (52%). However, there has been no significant change to the number of companies reporting their intent to serve alcohol during their holiday party (48.5% in 2018 versus 48.7% in 2017).

A Helpful Holiday Party Checklist

If your company is among the 65% that intend to have a holiday party this year, you should consider the following to avoid potential liability:

  • Ensure that your policies address employer-sponsored social functions. You may want to amend your harassment policies to specifically address employer-sponsored social events, including outlining conduct at a holiday party that is unacceptable.
  • Keep holiday customs appropriate to the workplace. You should avoid customs that have the potential to create romantic or sexually-charged situations (i.e. mistletoe). Additionally, you should remind employees that exchanging risqué or adult-themed gifts is not appropriate for the workplace.
  • Consider allowing guests to attend. While allowing for a “plus-one” increases the cost of the holiday party, employees may be less likely to engage is inappropriate/offensive behavior when accompanied by their significant other and/or children.
  • Confirm your venue and vendors are properly licensed. Injuries associated with the venue or food/beverage service may create liability for employers if the vendor is not properly licensed.
  • To prevent wage and hour issues, inform employees that attendance at the holiday party is voluntary. Activities that employees perceive as a requirement of work are more likely to be deemed time worked should a claim be filed. Holding the holiday party outside of business hours and refraining from discussing business during the event are also helpful to avoid this issue.
  • Avoid asking employees to perform any specific functions at the holiday party for the benefit of the employer to avoid any claims that employees are required to work “off the clock”.

It’s clear #MeToo has caused businesses to reassess many things this last year, but that doesn’t mean companies have to eliminate all activities that may result in potential liability. Holiday parties are often a time to celebrate accomplishments of the last year and gather as a team. This recognition and celebration is crucial for building morale and a positive culture. If companies take appropriate precautions, there is no reason why they cannot continue to host holiday celebrations going forward.