Mark Quoted In SHRM Article – How About Ditching the Annual Holiday Party?

Service projects, ‘mystery trips’ are among employers’ alternatives

Is the annual company holiday party still a thing?

In recent years, many companies have downsized their holiday parties to less lavish affairs or hosted other types of events that replaced the traditional after-hours holiday soiree.

The decision whether to host a holiday party may come down to cost or employee interest.

Moving away from the traditional party “seemed to come along with businesses becoming more budget-conscious in the aftermath of the recession, but it is also consistent with the business trend of focusing on company culture,” said Catherine Wragg, senior vice president for human resources at TriNet, headquartered in Dublin, Calif., which provides HR services to small and midsize businesses. “Using that holiday budget to have more meaningful team-building activities throughout the year helps employees engage with the company on a more consistent basis and contribute their time and skills in a way that is focused on building community.”

Could a Holiday Party Become a Liability?

One reason companies may choose events other than the traditional party to celebrate the holidays could be the desire to avoid potential liability. An employer could be held responsible for any activities that happen during the party, and some companies have decided the risk may not be worth it, Wragg said.

 Employment attorneys agree that holiday parties can be risky for employers.

“More bad behavior occurs at company holiday parties than at any other time of year,” said Mark F. Kluger, attorney and partner at Kluger Healey LLC in Fairfield, N.J. “The combination of the holiday season, pent-up feelings about co-workers and, most importantly, alcohol often lead to uninhibited behavior ranging from sexual harassment to expressions of intolerance.”

Adam Gutmann, an associate practicing employment law at Cozen O’Connor in Houston, noted that “given the prevalence of the #MeToo movement, some employers are giving common risk factors [at holiday parties]—namely alcohol—additional thought.”

Last year, Kluger Healey decided to throw a nontraditional holiday event—a bowling outing for employees and their significant others. This year, the firm is having a “hatchet-throwing party” in lieu of a workplace holiday party. The event will be hosted at Stumpy’s Hatchet House, where participants literally throw weapons at targets.

Community Service Projects, Team-Building Trips Might Be Preferable.

Jim Bell Sr., president and founder of Abel HR based in Cranbury, N.J., said one of his favorite ways to celebrate the holiday season is to have employees participate in a service project together.

“One idea is to distribute toys to underprivileged and needy children in the community,” he said. “I always recommend choosing a local organization to partner with to have an impact where employees live and work. When employees end their workday at noon and spend the rest of the day together having a light lunch and wrapping presents for others, it becomes a team-building activity while increasing the holiday spirit.”

Other community service projects, such as collecting items for a local food pantry or running a mitten and hat drive for a homeless shelter, can also be strong team-building activities during the holiday season.

Katy Cooper, an event planner at NKP Medical, a medical marketing agency in Los Angeles, recommends doing a “mystery trip” as an alternative to the standard holiday party.

Dave Green, founder of Mystery Trip in Los Angeles, is a former HR professional who sought to unite employees through fun experiences. Participants go on an hours-long or daylong excursion and follow clues that lead them to a surprise at the end of the event.

“Doing a mystery trip opens the door to encourage team building and building relationships among people in the different teams of the company; doing this leads to experiences and memories that will last longer than a cocktail party,” Cooper said.

Employers might want to consider not doing an event at all. According to a TriNet survey, 73 percent of employees would prefer a cash bonus during holiday time, while 51 percent favor having extra paid time off between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Because December can be a busy time for many people, a traditional holiday party could feel like an obligation to employees, Wragg noted.

“Some employers are noticing this and are opting for low-key employee lunches during business hours or a party in January or [at] another time of year,” she said.

Elaina Loveland is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Want To Know Everything About Your Employees All The Time? Try Continuous Background Checks

When you hired Bob 15 years ago, you had a background check conducted by an outside firm and everything looked good. Since then, just seeing his smiling face every day has been enough to reassure you that all is well with Bob. But is it? Fifteen years is a long time and things in his life may have changed. With workplace violence, sexual predators on the loose, and good old-fashioned fraud, theft and embezzlement still in play, heightened scrutiny of applicants and existing employees may be the new prudent.

According to a recent survey of 6,000 HR professionals, only 11% of employers ever rescreen employees. That means that most employers remain blind to arrests, convictions and serious financial problems throughout an employee’s tenure. So unless Bob suddenly requests 3 to 5 years of vacation, you may never know what he’s been up to after hours and who’s really working for you. Given how easy it is for the public to access online records of arrests, convictions, and even mug shots, it can be advantageous for you to know before a client or customer embarrassingly gives you the heads up. Social media fueled by anyone, including competitors, can taint your business overnight with negative information about the character of your employees before you even know why. Periodic background checks can certainly help combat that danger but sure won’t eliminate it.

In an effort to address these concerns, some background check companies are offering the background check on steroids alternative in the form of continuous monitoring. This means that an employer will be alerted to an arrest, conviction or credit-related problem as soon as the information is available. This is now possible because more police departments and court systems have digital databases that the credit reporting agencies can access. Although it is unclear how many employers utilize this service, we do know that membership in the National Association of Professional Background Screeners has quadrupled since its inception in 2003. Can you believe there is such an organization? And we can only imagine what their annual convention is like?

There are some important legal concerns to rescreening and continuous monitoring. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires employers to obtain written, informed consent before a background check is conducted by a third party credit reporting agency. The consent form must be a stand-alone document with nothing else on it but the FCRA release. Applicants must also receive the Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act document. So far under FCRA, consent for repeat or continuous monitoring can be included in the form as long as it is clearly spelled out. But some state laws require a renewed consent prior to each check.

No matter when negative information surfaces through a background check, whether at the applicant stage or 10 years into employment, employers must still follow the FCRA requirements to provide a Pre-Adverse Action Notice, allowing a reasonable time for the subject of the report to contest the findings and if the employer or the reporting agency is unconvinced, an Adverse Action Notice before withdrawing an offer or terminating employment.

There is also the EEOC to consider. That agency takes a dim view of employers that fail to hire based on a criminal conviction that is either old or has no nexus to the position sought. So while you’d probably have no trouble rejecting CFO candidate who had an embezzlement conviction, if that same applicant was rejected for a position in the Maintenance Department, the EEOC would likely start barking. The same would be true if an employer failed to hire an employee because of a 20-year-old drug possession conviction. And although many believe that criminal background checks can only look back 7 years, the FCRA imposes no temporal limitation at all. We believe that most employers would want to know as much criminal history as possible, especially about violent crimes, even if they occurred decades ago.

Similarly, while we would recommend stopping short of getting your current employees’ Colonoscopy results, continuous monitoring of criminal and credit history sure seems like a prudent approach to knowing who’s really working for you.