NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Holiday parties always tempt us to blow off steam, even if it's in front of bosses and co-workers, and that could be a problem.
According to Eventbrite.com, the office party is the holiday social event U.S. adults are most likely to attend (followed by New Year's Eve parties).
But it's also the event employers may fear most.
Keisha-Ann Gray, a partner at Proskauer's Employment Litigation & Arbitration Practice Group, says that for employers, holiday parties may be "legal nightmares" resulting from "negligence or harassment" claims.
"What if a supervisor behaves inappropriately with a junior employee?" Gray says. "What if an employee consumes too much alcohol and gets injured at the party? The company could be at risk."
For employers, Gray advises a heavy dose of planning before hosting. And employees would do well to know that company executives are watching before reaching for another round of food and drink at the holiday soiree.
Here's what employees should keep in mind for their holiday bash:
More employers are putting their rules for proper behavior on paper, with memos outlining appropriate conduct during the event. That means if you do "over-socialize," you can't say you weren't warned.
Chances are that your firm may issue its anti-harassment policy in advance of the event. Make sure you know exactly what's covered in the policy and act accordingly.
Keep the cocktail count low. A two-drink maximum is a great target. Better yet, opt for juice or soda and save the cocktail until you get home, or at least until you're away from your boss's prying eyes.
You don't have to go.
Conventional wisdom has it that you'll be singled out for not attending the company holiday party, but that's not really the case. Gray says that more companies are making their parties voluntary, working under the theory that fewer partygoers mean fewer potential headaches.
"Gag" gifts can go wrong.
It may be tempting to pass out gifts among staffers, and that's generally fine with employers. What's "not fine" are gifts that may be deemed offensive by the recipient -- or by management.
No matter what, know that your employer is likely scrutinizing your behavior, and your career path could suffer after a holiday party slip-up.
Yes it's a sign of the times, but wearing the lampshade at seasonal parties is a good way of saying "light's out" to your next promotion or raise, and might even cost you your job.