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How law firms can safely and ethically celebrate the holidays in 2020

Noel Peel

Written by

Noel Peel


June 3, 2021

A recent survey confirms that 75% of workers prefer monetary recognition in the form of bonus, gift cards, or paid time off, over a holiday party, whether virtual or in person. Only 25% of firms report they will host holiday parties, and most of those will be virtual. Given the lack of enthusiasm by participants, plus the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, one has to wonder if the traditional office party, with all of the associated risks and angst, will ever come back. 

Holiday Gifts

Because so many parties are cancelled or being scaled back, some firms are devoting more resources to gifts for clients, suppliers, people who refer business, etc. The rules of holiday gift giving and receiving are not as widely discussed as are wild holiday office parties, but are still important to everyone in business.

A gift is something of value offered with no expectation of a return; a bribe is the same, offered in hope of gaining influence or receiving a benefit.

If you are giving gifts:

  • Any gifts involving anyone involved in government contracts or approvals should be carefully examined; most are simply not allowed. Consider a builder’s holiday gifts, which resulted in five suspensions and two terminations for his friends in the Building Department. (Interestingly, the whistleblower was the sole employee who received a bottle of Jack Daniels, while his co-workers received Crown Royale and chocolates.) 
  • Know your clients’ policies. Even though you may be allowed to offer the gift, the recipient may be limited by a policy of their own. The last thing you want to do is to get your intended recipient in trouble. Smokeball’s Tasks and Workflows feature allows you to give everyone notice of the clients’ gift policies, and track who is making gifts or entertaining the client. 
  • Lawyers have been prosecuted for making improper “gifts” to doctors, EMTs, tow truck drivers, and others who refer business, so offering gifts of cash or significant value should be avoided.
  • If you want options to consider, here are some holiday gift ideas from the Smokeball team.

If you are offered or receiving gifts:

  • Know your firm’s policy – over 75% of private companies, and all government employers, have policies regarding receiving gifts and entertainment. Unfortunately, there is no uniformity among them, so recipient beware.
  • Ask others, and the boss, what they think; any gift you are reluctant to discuss or reveal is probably one you should decline.
  • Sad but true – if you’re new on the job, some vendors offering gifts may be seeking to involve you in an ongoing “cozy” relationship that violates policy or the law.

 Holiday Parties

The rules of the office holiday party are, by now, well-known. Although many organizations are cancelling or holding virtual gatherings, here is a quick reminder of the basics, all of which were ignored by the ironically named Hi-Way Safety Systems, whose 2019 holiday party resulted in two dead, one overdosed, and four arrested.

If you are planning a party:

  • Err on the side of inclusiveness in both the planning and invitation list.
  • Provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks; limit alcohol to beer and wine.
  • Have a starting and stopping time, with activities in between to encourage mixing.
  • Discourage (and do not host, attend, or approve expenses for) after-party parties.
  • Check with your insurance agent.

If you are attending a party:

  • Don’t drink too much. 
  • Don’t gossip, complain, or talk excessively about work. 
  • Don’t bring up, or jump into, controversial topics.
  • Don’t leave too early, or too late.
  • Dress and act appropriately.

In the end, excellent communication within the firm using tools such as the Matter Activity Timeline, and a common-sense approach to holiday gifts, should keep you on the right side of everyone’s policies, and the law.

Happy Holidays from everyone at Smokeball; we wish you a peaceful and prosperous 2021.

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