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ABC's of an Office Christmas Party

ABC's of an Office Christmas Party Image

By Olivia Wann, JD


Are you counting down the days until Christmas? With the holiday season fast approaching, questions arise for employers and their teams. Let’s talk about the ABC’s of Christmas in the workplace.


A.     Alcohol

If you are planning a Christmas party in the evening or on the weekend, many employers like to serve alcohol during their festive event. There are a few considerations to make in keeping your party safe and the employer’s liability limited. 

One idea is to engage a professional catering service and bartender. In this manner, you are employing a licensed and insured server/bartender who is trained to spot the signs of an individual over-indulging. You may want to consider a “drink ticket” limited to one or two tickets. I find this to be typical at large conferences. One client I’ve worked with actually arranges transportation during his work-sponsored events to minimize the risk of an employee driving under the influence.

Employers may opt to refrain from serving hard liquor and limit the choices to beer and wine.

If your holiday event is during the day, especially during the week, you may opt to not serve alcohol at all and instead serve mocktails. 


B.     Bonus

Provision of a holiday bonus is not required. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of employers with less than 100 employees, 14% of this size employer provides a year-end bonus while only 9% provide a holiday bonus.

Some employers opt for a year-end bonus. The bonus may reflect the profitability of the practice. The bonus may factor in the net income, personnel expense, individual incentive programs (such as a hygiene bonus, collection bonus, etc.), or simply a surprise bonus amount. It also accounts for the length of service.

Keep in mind that the bonus is subject to tax. It is also noteworthy to point out that if the bonus system is not set up correctly, this can actually be harmful to the practice’s profitability and frustrate staff members. Consult your practice management consultant and/or CPA to determine how you can set up the right bonus system to benefit the practice and incentivize the team, whether it is a Christmas bonus or year-end bonus.

Maybe query your team. One idea is to skip the elaborate Christmas party and use the money saved to distribute among the staff members as a bonus. Others may prefer a team trip. 


C.     Compensation

First, let’s discuss compensation for attendance at a holiday event. If attendance is mandatory, then employees would be paid for their time. The same holds true for employees organizing the event, whether it’s meeting with a caterer or spending time ordering supplies for the function. Also consider the agenda of the event. Is it strictly festivities or are you planning to cover goals for the following year and a recap of the practice’s productivity? If you’re talking about work and people are required to attend, it sounds like work and people are paid to work, especially if the party is held during normal business hours.

In practices I’ve personally served over the years, most of these practices pay the employees for Christmas day and New Year’s Day. If the holiday falls on the weekend or on an ordinary day off, the practice observes the paid holiday on a different day. Paid holidays are one of the strategies to retain staff and be competitive in the job market.

What about holiday shutdowns? Well-established dental offices or those who find that the period between Christmas and New Years Day is typically down time may choose to close down the practice entirely for a week or two.

Most employers shut down without pay. The Department of Labor does not require the employees to be paid – that is of course true only of hourly employees. If you have a salaried exempt employee, this employee is paid if any work is performed, even answering an email or work-related text message can trigger a workday.

On the other hand, some employers may require reservation of employee’s accumulated vacation or paid time off to be utilized unless prohibited by state law during the shutdown. This usually requires providing employees adequate notice such as publication in your employer’s handbook.

In reviewing the ABC’s of Christmas in the workplace, let’s not overlook the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

Exercise caution in being sensitive to team members who don’t observe the holiday, whether they are atheists, Muslim, or of other faiths who do not observe Christmas.  Inquire of these employees what their preference is whether they prefer not to participate in a holiday event or not. In this case, it may be best to plan a holiday party on the weekend rather than during working hours. The main thing to focus on is holiday parties should be voluntary and usually the point is to inspire our team.

May your holiday season bring you and your practice much joy and the New Year be filled with happiness, health and success.



References: Salary: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/17g-overtime-salary

Vacation Time: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/workhours/vacation_leave

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