Despite current economic woes, many employers will find a special way to thank their employees this holiday season. For most companies, this reward will come in the form of an office party.

But before any company party, employers should take a moment to remind their employees that company policies and procedures will apply even in a social setting.

Among the most important facts to emphasize are the company’s anti-harassment policies and the policy regarding alcohol use. If the current policies do not clearly state that they apply to work-related functions, it is time to review and update the employee handbook.

Employers can minimize the negative consequences of alcohol consumption at their parties in a variety of ways:

— organize a volunteer activity with a local charity rather than having a party;

— have non-alcoholic beverages available;

— arrange for alternative transportation for employees who have had too much to drink;

— stop serving alcohol beforeo the end of the party.

But office parties are not the only potentially hazardous situation that should concern employers. Gift giving in the office is another potentially problematic area. A gift certificate to a department store is unlikely to violate an organization’s anti-harassment policy, but a gift card to Victoria’s Secret just might.

Employers and employees also need to be sure that any gifts exchanged comply with conflict of interest policies or code of ethics that the company, vendors, or customers might have.

Companies also must clearly state that any bonuses are discretionary. If the bonuses are not clearly discretionary, they will be considered wages under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage payment laws. This would then lead to the re-calculation of a non-exempt employee’s regular wage rate, and any overtime earned during the course of the year would need to be adjusted accordingly.

Frank Spada is a labor and employment attorney at Pepper Hamilton (www.pepperlaw.com), 301 Carnegie Center.

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