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How to Plan a Fun (and Safe) Holiday Party 2020 Style



How to Plan a Fun (and Safe) Holiday Party 2020 Style

2020 has been…a year. And while it’s certainly been a trying 12 months, there’s still reason to have a holiday party “2020 style.” COVID-19 has changed the way in which employers and employees interact, which means holiday parties may look a bit different this year. Employers in some states may be able to have in-person holiday parties, likely in an open-air venue with enough space to spread out; however,  most employers will likely have to prepare for virtual holiday parties this year.



The annual party has always been a great opportunity to reflect at the end of a year, bond with co-workers, and regroup and prepare for the upcoming year. Just because 2020 has been a trying year doesn’t mean there isn’t cause to celebrate. Find a win from 2020, whether it be new hires, a new client, a positive change in culture, or something else – focus on the good and celebrate!

In addition to celebrating a tangible win, leadership should also recognize the work their employees have put in this year. Many have had to embrace working remotely, and a large number of employees have likely had to balance health, remote learning for children, and their work obligations. Take the time to recognize the adjustments most teams have had to make this year.


If your employees love a good theme then create one for your holiday party! Whether you’re able to hold a safe in-person event, or hold a virtual one, your employees can still participate in a themed party! Here are a few options that can work for both an in-person or virtual event:

  1. Seasonal Cards – take the time to handwrite notes to other employees and either give them in person or mail them.
  2. Hot Cocoa Recipe –consider having a few hot chocolate options (peppermint mocha, salted caramel…yum), or share hot cocoa recipes during your virtual event.
  3. Games, Games, Games – Schedule an in-person scavenger hunt (with appropriate safety precautions, of course) or set up a virtual game of trivial pursuit. Your employees can form teams, bond, and have fun while playing!
  4. Ugly Sweater / Backdrop – Have employees wear their ugliest garb to an in-person or virtual event. If virtual, employees can also compete to decorate their virtual background – others can vote on a winner!

Remember, themes should be fun and shouldn’t be considered “work,” so gauge your employees’ interest and make sure the event is as enjoyable as possible. After all, the goal is to celebrate!


Those who opt for an in-person event will certainly need to plan a bit more than those hosting a virtual event. That said, virtual events aren’t “easy” to plan either. In fact, sometimes they can be a bit more difficult to manage live. Regardless, there are a few items employers need to consider whether planning for a virtual or in-person holiday party.

  1. Give Employees Notice – send out an invite with advanced notice to both block schedules and garner excitement.
  2. Create an Agenda and Involve Speakers Early – virtual events shouldn’t last too long (probably no more than 90 minutes). All events should have a clear agenda that should be followed as best as possible.
  3. Practice – those involved in moving the event along should hold at least one practice session to account for timing and technology.
  4. Acknowledge the Celebration – remember to make this event about your employees and recognize the milestones and accomplishments of both the organization and individual employees.
  5. Budgets – you may need to expand a budget for an in-person event if you need a larger space (to account for proper social distancing); maybe this can come from a conference budget that was used less than expected in 2020.
  6. Gifts – if you’re holding a virtual event the cost is likely $0. Take your holiday party budget and send thoughtful gifts and care packages to your team members. Keep in mind there can be tax implications associated with cash or similar gifts (i.e., gift cards). You will want to confer with a tax professional before proceeding in this regard.
  7. Acknowledge 2021 – while many of us can’t wait to get to 2021, take the time to recognize all your team has been through in 2020. Set goals and positively communicate plans for the future: 2021 and beyond!
  8. Remember to be sensitive to the fact that not all employees celebrate religious holidays (or any holidays, for that matter) and so themes for events are better focused on topics other than religion. As well, participation in parties can be encouraged, but employees should be clear that participation is optional.


Keeping safety a top priority will be a main focus for those planning events this year. Make sure to review coronavirus resourcesCDC recommendations, and adhere to state and local mandates and protocols, and be aware that these are subject to change. Health scans, mask requirements, and the presence of hand sanitizer stations may be required for an in-person event. These precautions and requirements should be communicated to guests prior to the event.

If you’re holding an in-person event, consider an open-air option (depending on your location), and/or a location that allows enough space to spread out. Your venue should help communicate their policies, in accordance with capacity restrictions and state / local requirements.

Also, consider how alcohol may impact your in-person holiday party. If you’re serving alcohol, be sure to serve food as well! The presence of food can keep your attendees from getting too intoxicated. And, if you have employees under 21 in attendance, make sure they don’t drink. Drink tickets can also help limit the amount of alcohol each attendee consumes at an event! Giving your worker’s compensation and general liability insurance carriers a call to discuss the event is also advisable, as events that are mandatory or even just encouraged can be considered “work” if someone were to be hurt or an incident occurs. It’s also important to ensure employees understand the employer’s expectations for conduct at the event, and that employees still need keep their holiday spirit in check – an employer should not tolerate behavior at a party or event that would not be allowed at work.

Lastly, think about decorations. While massive and elaborate decorations make a statement and likely look awesome, they can also be dangerous. Decorations can fall, and if they’re large, then can potentially be hazardous in the event they hit an employee. Be sure to check your liability policies, and those of your venue, to make sure you protect your organization and your employees.

Keeping safety a top priority may also mean just holding a virtual event – and that’s okay! In fact, that’s likely what most employers will opt for this year.


Remember that employees should be paid for the work that they do, and that may mean attending a holiday party – virtual or otherwise. Employers should review policies in advance of the event. Employers will likely not need to pay exempt employees additional compensation for attending, but if non-exempt employees are required or even strongly encouraged to attend, the employer will likely need to record that time as working time, develop the means to track it, and compensate employees accordingly.

Remember, virtual attendance is still attendance and should be compensated accordingly!

And, while the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) may not impact a holiday party directly, employers should familiarize themselves with the Act in the event paid or other sick leave benefits overlap with any event.


Remember, the point of the holiday party is to reflect on the previous year, create a memorable experience, and communicate plans for the next year! Make this an enjoyable (and safe) experience for your employees, adhere to state and local guidelines and best practices, and…have fun!

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