Employers celebrating the holidays with company-wide parties are increasing in numbers. While not at 2019 levels, research shows that, in 2022, more than half are having in-person events. With office holiday parties returning, so too are the legal risks that run concurrently with them. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it is important to acknowledge that the company holiday party can violate the law in more ways than you might have considered. For employers, a skilled Atlanta employment lawyer can help you keep your party legally compliant. For employees harmed as a result of these kinds of violations, the right legal counsel can be invaluable in protecting your legal options related to those violations.
The Chicago-based firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas conducts an annual survey of employers regarding holiday parties. The firm’s 2022 survey revealed a massive uptick in in-person events, rising from 27% in 2021 to 57% this year. While not at 2019’s high (75%,) the 2022 number approaches where employers were in 2018 (65%.)
Holidays carry a unique set of risks for employers and employees alike. Especially in recent years, employers and employees alike have become more aware of the risks of sexual harassment at company holiday parties, especially when those events also involve the availability of alcoholic beverages.
Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it is important to understand when the law recognizes employer liability for sexual harassment. If a non-supervisory employee perpetrated the harassment, then the victim must prove that the employer knew about it (or should have known about it,) but did not take reasonable steps to stop it. When the harasser is a supervisor, then the hurdle that the victim must clear becomes distinctly lower.
However, what too many people too often overlook when it comes to holiday parties and employment law violations, is…
The Fair Labor Standards Act (and Unpaid Wages Violations)
The FLSA, as most know, prohibits employers from failing to pay their non-exempt employees for all the hours they work, including paying time-and-a-half overtime for those hours exceeding 40 in a week. While people often associate this violation with “off-the-clock” work, your employer’s holiday party may implicate this part of the law, as well.
There are a couple of comparatively common ways that an employer’s holiday party may constitute compensable “work time” for non-exempt employees and nonpayment potentially represents an FLSA violation. One occurs when the party takes place during regular work hours but your employer doesn’t compensate you for that time. Even if your employer’s party takes place outside normal business hours, you may be entitled to compensation if your employer made your attendance at the party mandatory.
For employers, the best way to minimize the risk of an FLSA violation is to convene the holiday outside normal business hours and communicate clearly to all non-exempt employees that their attendance at the event is strictly voluntary. This includes refraining from taking any adverse employment actions against employees who do not attend the party (such as administering workplace discipline or negatively impacting that employee’s potential for advancement within the company.)
Holiday parties celebrated with coworkers can be a joyous time. They also, however, are circumstances in which employees can be victimized by employment law violations. Whether you are one of those workers — or you are an employer seeking to avoid those sorts of violations — the knowledgeable Atlanta employment law attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help. We have extensive experience in both unpaid wage cases and sexual harassment matters, so reach out today to put the power of our experience to work for you. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.