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Bag the mistletoe, cut the booze: Office parties sober up

By Marley Jay

Associated Press

NEW YORK — ‘Tis the season to keep that office holiday party from adding to the list of workplace sexual misconduct scandals.

With the names of Weinstein, Spacey and Lauer likely getting more mentions this year than Dancer, Prancer and Blitzen, employers are making sure their year-end staff merrymaking doesn’t generate more inappropriate conduct.

There will be less booze at many. An independent business organization has renewed its annual warning not to hang mistletoe. And some will have party monitors, keeping an eye out for inappropriate behavior.

Even a regular office party can be complicated because the rules people normally observe at work don’t quite apply, which makes it easier for people to accidentally cross a line — or try to get away with serious misbehavior. Especially when too much drinking is involved.

According to a survey by Chicago-based consulting company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, only 49 percent of companies plan to serve alcohol at their holiday events. Last year, that number was 62 percent, the highest number in the decade the firm has run its survey. The number had been going up each year as the economy improved.

“As soon as you introduce alcohol at an off-site activity, peoples’ guards are dropped,” said Ed Yost, manager of employee relations and development for the Society for Human Resource Management based in Alexandria, Virginia. “It’s presumed to be a less formal, more social environment. Some people will drink more than they typically would on a Friday night or a Saturday because it’s an open bar or a free cocktail hour.”

The Huffington Post reported Friday that Vox Media, which runs sites including Vox and Recode, won’t have an open bar this year at its holiday party and will instead give employees two tickets they can redeem for drinks. It will also have more food than in years past. The company recently fired its editorial director, Lockhart Steele, after a former employee made allegations of sexual harassment against him.

A survey by Bloomberg Law said those kinds of safeguards are common: while most companies keep an eye on how much partygoers are drinking, others limit the number of free drinks or the time they’re available. A small minority have cash bars instead of an open bar.

Yost said companies concerned about sexual misconduct need to look further than the holiday party.

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