party hatAre you planning an office holiday party? Office parties are a great way to reward employees, create collegial bonding and boost morale. But office parties can also create unintended consequences when employees and employers aren’t on their best behavior.

Should you include spouses and partners? Including these non-employees has its advantages and disadvantages. For many couples, the party can serve as a shared experience, as opposed to another example of workplace demands keeping them apart. And truly, some people’s spouses exert a measure of control on poor social behavior. However, the presence of spouses and partners complicates the gathering. Unlike the employees, their partners have not signed an employee handbook and are not really under management’s control.

Prevent inappropriate behavior before the party starts: It’s a great idea for management to remind all of the employees about what behavior is expected, even “off the clock”. You can go all-out and redistribute the employee handbook (a bit heavy handed, perhaps) or send a genteel email to all that the business expects professional behavior at all times, whether in the office, during business travel or during the upcoming holiday party. You can even state that excessive drinking or inappropriate sexual behavior will not be tolerated.

Selfie Alert: What is your policy regarding photography at your company party? Perhaps you have high net worth clients attending the event, or perhaps you want to be able to kick back without the fear of seeing your bad dancing on YouTube. If you don’t want cell phone cameras, that is your right, but you have to tell your employees and guests ahead of time, and be prepared to confront scofflaws.

Control the Flow of Alcohol: The greatest contributor to bad behavior at office parties is the combination of bad judgment and unlimited alcohol. If you have hired a bartender, make sure that he or she is certified in alcohol serving safety. You might want to consider giving each attendee two tickets for drinks as they arrive, so that they cannot exceed two drinks. In the case of ticketing, you must insist with the bartender that no drinks beyond the two drinks be served, as the bartender will take the heat, not you. Be sure that you are serving substantial food from the moment the drinks flow. A long cocktail hour with minimal food is a mistake. And shut down the bar well before the party ends. If you have employees younger than 21, you must tell the bartender and remind them to ask for identification at the bar.

Prevent Drunk Driving: No company party is worth an accident on the way home. In addition, there have been cases of the employer being held liable for an employee’s drunk driving following a company event. If you are providing drinks, find a way to limit them. If you are running a cash bar, make non-alcoholic drinks free or offer other perks to designated drivers. The executives of the company should also discuss prior to the party what they will do if they feel that someone is unsafe to drive home. The party hosts should situate themselves by the door as people exit so that they can make those decisions. Bring cash along to pay for cabs. If the budget allows it, consider “gifts” of rides home for everybody.