Investigating Bad Behavior After a Company Holiday Party

My name is Michele Sturgell, and I am the Investigations Manager at Employers Council. I oversee all of our third-party investigations for our members.

It is hard to believe that 2017 is already winding to a close. For many employers, this is a time to reflect upon what made them successful this past year and to plan for what lies ahead in 2018. In between all of that reflection and projection, however, is the holiday season, and for employers, that means that company holiday party season is upon us.

Company holiday parties are a terrific way to celebrate with employees – they can be fun and festive, and often times a terrific way to reward employees for their yearlong hard work and dedication.

Despite the fun and festive environment of these parties, I receive an influx of calls from our members about a particular situation or event that arose at their parties between two or more co-workers. Whether it is due to alcohol, a more relaxed atmosphere, or the enhanced social interaction between colleagues (or some combination of all three), these holiday parties can lend themselves to situations that would not normally be appropriate in the workplace.

That is when I typically receive that influx of phone calls.

My primary piece of advice here is to treat whatever situation arose from the party just as seriously as you would in any other circumstance. Do not fall prey to the adage that it is only the company holiday party, and that whatever may have happened is just not a big deal. As such, remember to investigate any matter just as you normally would.

Additionally, I would be sure to consider when you may or may not need to bring in a third-party investigator. As a rule of thumb, I suggest that employers evaluate these three questions when making a determination to conduct an investigation internally–or whether to retain a third-party investigator for a situation that occurred during a holiday party:

  1. Has top-level management been implicated or accused of misconduct during the party? If a supervisor or someone the complainant indirectly reports to is accused or involved – or even if you want to avoid any uncomfortable situations, a third-party investigator may be a good idea.
  2. Is Human Resources directly accused of the improper conduct that occurred during the party? A third-party investigator can help with any claims of bias.
  3. Do you have time? There is no denying that we are all very busy. Before you know it, a 2017 holiday party issue remains unresolved in spring 2018. A third-party investigator can help here.

Hopefully, none of these issues will come to pass, but just know that you can call me any time if you feel the need. You can reach me at MSturgell@EmployersCouncil.org or 303.223.5468. In the meantime, happy holidays!