Holidays in the workplace: Listen to Bad Santa, and do precisely the opposite

We're already into the seventh day of Chanaukkah, and Christmas is only eight short shopping days away ("I've gotta get that football helmet!"), so it must be time for a post on how employers should handle the holidays in the workplace.

Suzanne Lucas of The Evil HR Lady has a depressing-but-funny post about the lamest employee Christmas gifts ever.

And, only slightly off-topic, you may enjoy reading about tacky Christmas sweaters (check out the very last guy - hilarious!), or the woman who got tasered at an Apple store in Massachusetts because she wanted to buy too many iPhones as Christmas gifts for her relatives in China, or (if you have the intestinal fortitude) this great idea (not!) for a last-minute gift . . .

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. . . For those of you who are still here, or who are still speaking to me after that last link, here is Bad Santa's workplace-holiday advice.

(WARNING: I think Bad Santa may be a plaintiff's lawyer.)

For the Ebenezer Scrooges* out there:

*If your company is suffering in this shaky economy, please know that this does not apply to you. I'm addressing this one to the companies (and there are many) who have done reasonably well in the last year.

Be a cheapskate.* Nothing says "employee appreciation" better than a coffee mug, key fob, or calendar with the company logo on it. These things are given away free at marketing events, but that doesn't mean they're free to you. And, what better way to make your employees feel good about themselves?

"A year of dedicated service, and we get a key fob with company logo? What a cheap trick!"

Make attendance at your party mandatory. After all, how else will you guarantee that anybody will show up for it? And, that way, if somebody gets hurt at the party, you'll get to be charged for their workers' comp.

Don't pay them for their time at the mandatory company party. In fact, even if attendance is optional, don't pay them. Dude, it's a party. They aren't contributing anything to your bottom line while they're drinking Russian tea (because you're too cheap to pay for alcohol) and pretending to be amused by your Santa costume (which you wear while handing out the key fobs with company logo). If attendance is mandatory and you don't pay, sure, you could have a little problem with the Fair Labor Standards Act, but so what? And if attendance isn't mandatory, no FLSA problem whatsoever! Just because they may not be too happy that they are losing a half day of paid work . . . or having to take away from their precious iPhone taser/shopping time after hours without pay . . . during the most expensive time of the year . . .

When scheduling your party, do what is convenient for you. You are the boss. What you say, goes. Your way, or the highway. If your employees have young children and have to hire a babysitter so they can attend your mandatory Russian-tea-and-company-logo-key-fob party -- well, that's the way the Christmas cookie crumbles.

Make sure everyone understands that they are expected to give a nice gift to you. Ebenezer Scrooge was really kind of a sucker, when you think about it, because he never spent any money on himself. Don't be that guy. Company-logo key fobs don't grow on trees, so it's only fair that the employees chip in and get you a totally awesome gift. Maybe a massage chair with Bluetooth technology for your office, while you listen to Cheap Trick on your noise-cancelling headphones and review Russian tea recipes for next year's party.

And for you Fezziwigs out there . . .

The holidays are FUN! Don't be a wet blanket! By, say, making sure that employees who have had too much to drink at the party have a safe way to get home, or even -- heaven forbid! -- putting some reasonable limits on alcohol consumption. You don't want to get the reputation for being a bluenose.

The holidays are FUN! Don't let the lawyers take all the fun out of your generosity! So, your lawyer tells you that the holiday bonus has to be included in calculating non-exempt employees' regular rate? And that your bonus (under certain circumstances) may set a precedent that you will be required to continue in the future? This isn't the time for legal nitpicking! Put a sock in it, Atticus Finch, and have a drink!

The holidays are FUN! Don't be a wet blanket! By, say, reminding your employees of your no-harassment policy before the party, as wisely recommended by Jon Hyman, or making sure that your party doesn't degenerate into "Employees Gone Wild." Harassment lawsuits are so . . . January!

So, Joe got a little carried away at the party, and now someone has complained? Boys will be boys! When people get drunk, they do all kinds of crazy things they wouldn't normally do. People won't feel free to have fun if you jump all over their case for everything they did when they had a few too many. You were young once yourself! So, don't investigate that complaint -- it will just stifle Joe and have a chilling effect on everybody else -- and next year's party will be the least, to say the most. You might as well serve Russian tea and hand out company-logo key fobs.


Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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