Managing office holiday party risks

Ready or not, office holiday parties are back this year. These are some of the risks that practice owners and leaders should manage to help ensure a stress-free holiday and a positive transition to the New Year.

There are a number of recurring seasonal risks we provide updates and reminders on every year, like our recent look at avoiding tax evasion and the abusive promoter driven plans that target doctors at the end of each year. Another one of those predictable seasonal risks is the traditional holiday office party. In late 2020 much of the country was under varying degrees of COVID-19 lock-down and pandemic protocols, with a distant promise of vaccines and conditions that had healthcare professionals fighting for life and sanity.

After arguably the most stressful year in the practice lives of many providers and despite recurring surges in coronavirus cases and deaths across the U.S., the wide adoption of vaccines, and the loosening of restrictions on gatherings has many medical practice leaders and staff members ready for an in-person party again. HR leaders feel that maintaining the tradition of a celebration, whether in person or virtual is a good way to blow off steam, help build team morale and connections between people who have been working remotely, and thank your team for everything they have done.

For those choosing to hold live events, maintaining covid safety standards need to be a significant consideration.

  • Make your expectations of safe conduct and requirements for attendance clear beforehand, including issues like vaccination status, mask-usage for staff (and their guests) and make sure they are enforced in a uniform manner.
  • Consider skipping guests this year, it will help reduce the crowd size, minimize conflict over safety rules and keep the focus on the team, their achievements, and relationships.
  • Consider the pandemic safety policies of the venue you use and if you are hosting pay attention to details like safe food and beverage handling that avoids buffets, passed appetizers, and other “shared-touch” items.
  • Consider the size, layout and ventilation of any venue you may use; outdoor is best, followed by locations that have open windows, patios or other partially open spaces that allow fresh air circulation followed by indoor spaces with high ceilings and ample spacing. This promotes a higher comfort level with your guests and may help encourage attendance if these details are shared with your invitation.

While some of these risks are altogether new or variations of more familiar ones, the more conventional risks haven’t gone away and some of them may be heightened by current stress levels, contentious social and political environments, and those who may feel they need to, “make up for lost time”. We’ve covered these issues before in greater detail, so here’s a short summary of some issues and risks to consider that will help ensure your holiday party remains, first and foremost, a safe and professional celebration. 

  • It’s optional, make that clear and don’t penalize, formally or otherwise, those who do not choose to participate.
  • Regardless of whether it’s live or virtual, make it inclusive of all faiths, physical abilities, and other individual sensitivities.
  • Make expected standards of professional dress, conduct, speech, and behavior clear. They should match the standards enforced in your office during business hours.
  • Alcohol is not your friend and is the leading cause of issues at corporate events. Monitor and control consumption carefully. No open bar, self-service etc. If possible, use a 3rd party venue like a restaurant etc. that at least partially assumes the risk of alcohol service.
  • Feed your guests, it creates an activity that keeps them busy and should be considered required if you are serving alcohol.
  • Make it clear that those who need a ride home can rely on you to provide safe transportation home.
  • Consider your insurance requirements including general liability insurance coverage for onsite events at your office to any special coverage required for offsite events including those based around specific experiences, activities (e.g., escape room, trolley bar, outdoor experiences, etc.) or involving group travel.
  • Pay attention to the appropriateness of the activities, décor, games, music, and other details in light of all of the above qualifications.
  • Make it clear that rules apply to all in attendance, including owners and executives. If it’s not something that you’d want photographed, filmed and shared on social media, make sure it doesn’t happen.

About the Author
Ike Devji, JD, has practiced law exclusively in the areas of asset protection, risk management and wealth preservation for the last 16 years. He helps protect a national client base with more than $5 billion in personal assets, including several thousand physicians. He is a contributing author to multiple books for physicians and a frequent medical conference speaker and CME presenter. Learn more at www.ProAssetProtection.com.