The holiday season is upon us, which for most people means a flurry of activity involving shopping, family, friends and work events.  Although most of these activities are fun and something we look forward to, they can also cause stress if there are too many of them and we have to find a way to jam them all into our schedules. If you are a business owner or in charge of planning the holiday party for your company, you may be trying to find some way to accommodate everyone’s schedules and finding it nearly impossible.  If this is a challenge you’re facing, you may want to consider having your holiday party after the holidays are over, in January, February or even March.

“The holidays can be packed with lots of events, both families and work,” explains Chelsie Kennedy with Country Inn & Suites by Carlson-Omaha Airport.  “Some companies schedule parties in January to avoid the busy schedules that go along with the holiday season.  I also think having a company celebration in January, after the year’s end, can really boost morale and start the year with forward momentum.”

Lisa Westra with the Hilton Garden Inn Omaha West agrees that it’s a great benefit of booking your party in January, when the holiday stress level has diminished.  “We can also offer more competitive pricing due to demand decreasing,” Lisa states.

There are a number of other benefits to holding your party after the holidays.  “Companies sometimes find they have better attendance when they have their holiday party in January or February,” Denise Munderloh with Lied Lodge & Conference Center says.

Chuck Perry with Café Annie’s comments, “Postponing a company party until after the holidays makes it easier for employees to participate and makes for a more relaxed, fun event since the pressures of holiday preparations are past.”

“From a rental perspective, the advantage is better availability of equipment,” adds Chris St. Pierre with Party Time Rental.  “You also may be able to get some discounts after the holidays as many of the companies are looking for work after the busy holiday season is over.”

Curious about what you can do to make your after-holiday party unique and different?  “It’s nice to think about warm weather getaways when the holidays end and we head into the dead of winter,” says Chuck Perry with Café Annie’s.  “A luau or Caribbean themed party is a fun idea that has a whole different vibe than a traditional holiday theme.”

“A few fun ideas for entertainment include a hypnotist or magician,” suggests Chelsie Kennedy with Country Inn & Suites by Carlson-Omaha Airport.  “It’s been my experience that adults are not necessarily interested in games, but rather conversations and laughter.  Door prizes and drawings are fun ways to keep people hanging out and enjoying the atmosphere.  One of our upcoming parties is fiesta-themed, piñata and all!  A fun, themed party really sets the mood for the event.”

Having your holiday party at a bowling alley is also a fun idea.  You’ll probably be able to reserve a few lanes or a party room more readily after the holidays than you would in December as many families and other businesses are having their get-togethers at bowling alleys this time of year.

“Doing some sort of a raffle prize and having entertainment lined up is always a good idea,” says Chris St. Pierre with Party Time Rental.  “Some people also like to have music, but I usually find that distracting.  Catering is also important to your employees are not working during the party.  And, of course, an open bar never hurts.  We’ve done several really impressive outdoor events with tents because the customer didn’t have room in their facility.  Tents can be a great, different solution, but you need to make sure to have it heated properly.  If you really want something impressive, we can set up starlight packages inside of tents, but this can be a little expensive.”

“Company holiday parties really give employers a chance to say thank you to their employees,” Chelsie Kennedy with Country Inn explains.  “It does not have to be an extremely lavish event.  Displaying a certain level of gratitude is what is important.  People like to feel valued and appreciated and company celebrations are a great way to recognize organization and individual accomplishments over the year.”

“When planning your after-holiday party, make sure not to wait too long,” points out Denise Munderloh with Lied Lodge & Conference Center.  “People are still in the holiday spirit the first couple of weeks into January.  Many venues may keep their holiday decorations up for your party, which will help with your budget and make your party still feel like a holiday party.”  You can also consider buying holiday decorations at the store as many stores offer holiday decor for half price (or even cheaper) as they try to get rid of the inventory.  You can really stretch your budget by doing so with the plans of decorating your late winter company party with lights, ornaments, trees or other Christmas-themed decorations.  You can even keep these on hand for next year’s holiday party, whether you decide to host it early, in the thick of the season, or after the holidays again.  You might also be able to find some inexpensive raffle items, door prizes or even gifts for your employees that you can give at the party as many items not necessarily holiday-themed also tend to go on sale after the new year.

One issue that often comes up when a holiday party is being planned is alcohol and how to handle a company’s liability when serving it.  Law firm Woods & Aitken provides the following information on a litigation-free holiday season:

Once school starts it seems like winter and the holiday season are here in the blink of an eye. Now is the best time to start planning for the company party season. These company events are intended to be festive—a chance to reward employees and celebrate the season. Therefore good intentions and good cheer should be combined with thoughtfulness and a degree of prudence in order to minimize the risk of liability that can result from these events, especially when alcohol is involved.

Consumption of alcohol is the root of many holiday party problems. Simply not serving alcohol is one solution to many holiday party issues that can be considered. For many employers and employees, however, a bit of holiday “cheer” is part of the celebration. Where alcohol is served, three forms of potential for liability are in the picture: social host liability, worker’s compensation liability, and harassment liability.

Social host liability arises when your intoxicated guest causes injury. The risk is greatest for drunken driving accidents that occur when an impaired guest drives away from the party and gets into an accident. States vary as to whether they impose social host liability. Nebraska does not have a social host law designating a host responsible for injuries caused by an impaired adult. However, Nebraska will impose liability for harm caused by intoxicated minors (those under age 21) who consumed alcohol on property controlled by the social host. In those states that hold social hosts liable in an employer-employee situation, whether by statute or by court decision, there typically needs to be a connection between the employment and the impairment. Such connections may include holding the party on company property, having the party during work hours or while the employee was on the clock, or serving alcohol provided by the employer.

Worker compensation liability for injuries that occur during a company party will depend on whether the injury “arises out of and in the course of employment.” Under Nebraska law, that would require a court to conclude that any one of the following criteria was met:

(1) the activity occurred on company property,
(2) the employee was expressly or impliedly required to attend the party,
(3) the activity was part of the employee’s service to the employer, or
(4) the employer derived substantial benefit from the activity beyond the intangible value of improvement in employee morale.

Finally, employers must stay alert to potential employee harassment. Employers are well advised to establish, communicate and actively enforce harassment policies. As we all know, though, the introduction of alcohol lowers inhibitions, which increases the possibility of harassment.

What can your company do to limit your liability?

1. Remind employees about company policies (particularly with regard to harassment).

2. Make the party voluntary and expressly communicate that to employees.

3. Hold the party off-premises and outside of normal work hours, preferably on a weeknight.

4. Require identification to determine age. Consider hiring professional bartenders who are trained in serving guests, checking identification, and identifying and cutting-off the overindulged.

5. Designate “Party Managers” who will circulate during the party to better assure that alcohol consumption is controlled and that unwanted behavior is minimized.

6. Consider issuing tickets for free drinks and limit the number given to each guest.

7. Limit the time the bar is open, and strictly enforce the cut-off time.

8. If you are going to serve alcohol, do not serve hard alcohol. Limit drinks to beer, wine and non­alcoholic beverages.

9. Serve food rich in starch and protein rather than simply salty, sweet, or greasy food.

10. Offer an alternative to driving—free taxi rides, designated drivers, or discounted rooms if the event is at a hotel.

Having your party at a hotel is an excellent idea for a number of reasons, but reducing liability is high on the list.  If your guests imbibe a little too much in a hotel setting and you have rooms available, they need not leave the building, they simply ride the elevator to their ‘home’ for the night.  In addition to liability issues, many hotels like The Hilton Garden Inn and Country Inn & Suites have party rooms available, bars and catering options that will make party planning an easy process.

Having a company holiday party is vitally important to the morale of your company and to show your employees you have appreciated their hard work all year.  Having the party after the busy months is showing you respect their schedule and want the party to be as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.  By taking the above suggestions, you can have a unique, safe and memorable after-holiday party that will achieve all of your goals.