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Thursday, June 02, 2011
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WHAT HAPPENS AT THE HOLIDAY PARTY . . .

Why do employers sponsor holiday parties? To show our appreciation for our employees’ work and, hopefully, celebrate a successful year in business. However, in my experience holiday parties are fraught with as much opportunity to damage morale as to improve it. So here are some thoughts from a war-scarred veteran of many year-end parties.

First, let your employees help plan the party. It is not really a party unless the people you plan to honor and entertain actually want to come. I once worked for a company who hosted their holiday party at a fancy restaurant that required men to wear a jacket. Many of us in management frequented this restaurant and considered it a big perk to invite the rank-and-file employees to a party there. However, almost none of the staff (primarily female) attended the party. After a couple of years of this trend, someone had the bright idea to ask the staff why the party was not well attended. Turns out, most of the staff’s husbands hated to wear a sports coat or jacket, so they did not attend. The moral of the story is, let your people help plan the party.

I cannot discuss holiday parties without discussing the issue of alcohol. To paraphrase, “What happens at the holiday party, does not stay at the holiday party.” Behavior at any office party comes back to work. The party is not a free pass for adolescent behavior and there is no law against discharge or discipline for actions taken at the party. Don’t punch out the boss. “Innocent flirting” with a subordinate at the party can become sexual harassment in the cold light of day.

For the employer, alcohol includes the possibility of "social host liability." In Georgia, social hosts can be held liable for the damage caused by someone to whom they serve alcohol if the person was noticeably intoxicated at the time and the host knows the person will soon be driving a motor vehicle. In South Carolina social host liability is limited to hosts who serve alcohol to minors (including providing open access, such as a keg).

My rule of thumb when advising clients is--all things in moderation. Here are some tips to help keep the party in check and still have a good time:

1. Invite spouses if the party is after business hours;
2. Do not serve unlimited free alcohol. If the party is a dinner, have an open bar for 45 minutes or an hour before dinner and then go to a cash bar. Hand out two free drink tickets to each person;
3. Serve food to help slow alcohol absorption;
4. Do not serve unattended alcohol, particularly if there are minors attending the party;
5. Hire a professional bartender.

Happy Holidays!

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See the attached PowerPoint below on Negotiating Physician Contracts.

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The recent flooding raised a question with my clients: "Do I have to pay employees for "_________ (fill in the blank—snow, ice, flood, locus-- days" they did not work? And the answer is . . . wait for it. . . it depends. Typical lawyer answer, right?

For hourly employees the answer is easy. No, you do not have to pay hourly employees for hours they do not work. You can let them use vacation or PTO if you have such a plan. Of course, you can always pay them even though the law does not require it. If you do pay more than the law requires, let your employees know it so that--i) they know what a good person you are, and ii) they do not think they are entitled to it the next time this happens.

For salaried exempt employees the answer is more complicated. Exempt means the employee is exempt from the requirement to pay overtime for hours worked over 40. The analysis of whether an employee is exempt is way beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say getting paid on a salary is generally one of the requirements to be exempt.

You must be very careful if you are going to take money away from a salaried employee. The general rule is you can deduct from a salaried employee's paycheck if: i) they did not work at all on the day in question, ii) they do not have vacation or sick time to cover the time off, and iii) the absence was for personal reasons.

Then the question becomes did they miss for personal reasons? If you close the office and tell people not to come in, the missed time is not for personal reasons and you should pay the salaried employees. If the office is open and they do not come in at all that day, you can deduct for the full day.

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    J. Edward Enoch P.C.
    3540 Wheeler Rd, Ste. 312
    Augusta, GA 30909
    p. 706-738-4141
    e. info@enochlaw.com

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