Friday, December 12, 2014

Keep your company off the naughty list

Merry all are we during the holiday season, aren’t we? What is not to love about the festive fare, catered events, lights, parties, sugary treats, white elephants gifts, and time off from work?

I will share a little secret with you. For employers, the holidays create increased liabilities and open the door for long-term legal problems. Holiday enthusiast that I am, I hate to say that the season of cheer during the work week gives me visions of lawsuits instead of sugar plum fairies.

While holiday decorations, cards, costume contests, gift giving, and parties all seem innocent enough, unless they are carefully managed they can easily become holiday headaches for employers. It’s important to remember that while some employees take for granted beautiful nativity scenes and cards adorned with paintings of Mary and Jesus, other employees may consider them offensive and an invitation to file discrimination claims.

In considering what to allow in the workplace during the holiday season, it is safe to say most people are comfortable with secular symbols of the season such as Santa, reindeer, snowmen, and Christmas trees. In contrast, a nativity scene and religious symbols, cards, programs, or music could easily divide employees with differing beliefs.

The potential holiday headaches continue in considering holiday bonuses and gifts. While I am certainly not encouraging any business to cut bonuses or gifts, discriminatory practices or favoritism can easily creep into those festive envelopes. Businesses should streamline ways to allocate holiday bonuses, and give out similar presents to all employees. Failure to fairly streamline these practices could easily go as bad as egg nog left out in the breakroom.

Since we are lighting the way to holiday headaches, let’s not forget the liabilities that come with holiday workplace parties. From sexual harassment to “harmless” jokes, inappropriate touching, comments and behavior, to collect calls from the county jail the day from the employee who got stopped on the way home, holiday parties can pose major problems for businesses. Businesses should remember and communicate to all employees that workplace policies still apply during holiday parties — and will be enforced.

It’s also important to remember that it is the employer’s responsibility to provide holiday gatherings that demonstrate a commitment by the employer to maintain compliance with company policies.

Lastly, the holidays are a time for creating memories with family and friends – that means most employees are interested in some time away from the workplace. While it is not required, it is widely accepted among most companies that Christmas and New Year’s Day should be paid holidays. For businesses that operate 24/7, isn’t it fair to offer some incentivized pay to the employees who gladly hold the fort at work while the rest of the team enjoys festive celebrations with loved ones?

“Scrooging” your employees out of holiday pay for a day or two doesn’t make sense and only lowers employee morale.

The holidays are a great time to enjoy festive fun, even in the workplace, a time to close out one year and get ready for another. Still, it’s important to remember that the holidays are not a “hall pass” for employers and employees alike to forget company policies, acceptable workplace standards, and employment/labor laws.

Monica Bitrick is the CEO of Bitrick Consulting Group, a human resources company in Idaho Falls.