(TNS) I waited and waited, knowing it would come. It always comes this time of year, just like Santa Claus.
Sure enough, when I opened my email this week, it was there: An email from a public relations company offering up experts to talk about what workers and managers should and shouldn't do at workplace holiday parties.
This one came under the headline: "Holiday Party Hazards: 6 Ways To Avoid Legal Hangovers." Hah! Legal hangovers! It's a joke because people love getting hammered at company parties!
Part of my holiday tradition is to publicly mock these story pitches, of which I receive many. I am very careful, of course, to not name the companies who send them out. That would be rude and I'm sure the folks at XpertHR would not appreciate me making fun of their email.
Oh, well. Some of the grand ideas in this list of tips include: keep the focus off religion; be careful if serving alcohol; make sure supervisors set a good example; and enforce discrimination, harassment and employee conduct policies.
I'm sure this information is valuable to the zero people out there considering adding beer pong, wet T-shirt contests or Scripture readings to their holiday office parties. For the rest of us, it's another example of the way overly worried managers and outside experts tend to infantilize the workplace.
Call me a crazy idealist, but I believe most working people know that drinking to excess and barfing on the boss' shoes is a bad idea. I think most people, working or otherwise, know that bringing up religion in a social situation is unwise.
And I believe a company generally does more good when it errs on the side of respecting the intelligence of its employees.
Another email I received, from the Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw (oops, again!), stated definitively that: "Courts have called today's office parties 'fertile ground' for people looking to sue — no surprise given that more than 40 percent of employees report having seen or experienced embarrassing holiday party conduct."
I don't know which "courts" said that (I didn't even know courts could talk) and I'm not sure whose butt that 40 percent figure was pulled out of, though I imagine it was either Seyfarth's or Shaw's.
None of that really matters, because there's nothing a lawyer can say about the legal risks of "embarrassing holiday party conduct" that any decent manager doesn't already know.
Which is one reason these annual BEWARE THE HOLIDAY OFFICE PARTY! stories are so frustrating.
The other reason is: They're boring. Who wants to read about how going to a party "may be considered working time and hourly employees may be entitled to overtime" or how "holiday soirees can morph into expensive legal suits."
I can't fix the stupidity of the subject matter, but I can definitely dial down the boredom. As a Secret Santa gift to all of you, I have compiled Rex Huppke's Holiday Office Party Tips to Avoid Litigation, Public Humiliation and Imprisonment.
My hope is that this list will rise to the top of any Google search on the subject of office holiday party advice.
—Don't drown Kevin in the punch bowl.
We can all agree that Kevin is a terrible person and the office would be a better place without him. But that doesn't make it "OK" to drown him in the punch bowl at the office holiday party. Drowning a person, even if it's Kevin, is still illegal in most states and could land the company and the person or persons who hold Kevin's smug face down in the punch bowl in serious legal trouble.
Make sure you inform your employees that the office party is a strict "no-drowning-Kevin zone." Offer them some alternative ways to discreetly exact revenge on Kevin. Spilling a drink on him "accidentally" is one idea. Another is to steal that annoying laser pointer he uses at every meeting. I think it's in his top drawer.
—Don't bring large farm animals to the office party.
How many times have you been at work and thought: "Man, it would be funny if a cow walked by right about now." Probably a lot.
The holidays can bring out the rascal in the best of us, so it's important that bosses and managers make sure everyone knows a holiday party is no place for a cow, donkey, moose or llama. Under certain circumstances, and with the appropriate legal waivers in place, a duck can be acceptable, but a general rule of thumb is: "If it's not human, leave it at home."
Nothing ruins a festive office gathering quite like a completely nude co-worker. But if the dress code — a code that says you must be dressed — isn't emailed out beforehand, workers might just assume their birthday suit is appropriate attire.
Sure, there's nothing technically wrong with being naked. It's liberating and it's good to encourage your employees to "be themselves." But having naked people at an office holiday event is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it open the door to potential harassment charges, it can lead to all manner of unfortunate Xerox-related accidents.
—Try to avoid conversations in which you suggest that yours is the one true god and all other religions are nonsense.
Most of us go to holiday parties so we can proselytize and discuss our faith with people who are, at best, acquaintances. And that's fine, of course.
But a responsible manager will pass along a simple message to his or her workers: Declaring your religion superior to all others is a big "office party no-no."
Also bad is "casting out apostates" and "stoning nonbelievers."
That should cover things. Just circulate this list at work and you can count on a safe, lawsuit- and nudity-free holiday bash.
Until next year, enjoy the party.
Except for you, Kevin. Maybe you should stay home.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RexWorksHere.
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