5 Tips to Avoid Getting Fired After Your Office Holiday Party

Sound seasonal advice from human resources expert Jessica Merrell-Miller.

ByABC News
December 5, 2012, 9:32 AM

Dec. 5, 2012— -- intro: Be afraid -- be very afraid. Office parties are back.

A November survey of 105 companies by executive search firm Battalia Winston found that 91 percent were planning to throw a party this year, up from a party-pooping 74 percent last year.

If you tend to be that guy/gal who gets him/herself in trouble, human resources expert Jessica Merrell-Miller has some good advice. Merrell-Miller is president and chief executive officer of Xceptional HR and editor and chief blogger at Blogging4Jobs.com.

The holiday season is upon us, and the magic is in the air. Employees are eager with anticipation for a chance to let loose at the upcoming holiday party for your workplace, while managers, including HR, are anxiety-ridden. While employees plot spiking the eggnog, managers are drowning their sorrows in liquid antacid to mitigate the impending ulcer the company holiday party brings.

Managers, especially your human resources department, walk on eggshells anticipating the next employee investigation, sexual harassment claim or termination that comes with the annual office soiree.

Not a year has gone by when I haven't dealt with a holiday party workplace debacle. From inappropriate touching and sexual harassment complaints to the holiday punch being spiked, I've seen it all. A few years back I dealt with a male worker who left suggestive Post-It notes on a female employee's computer as a result of advances and conversation during the holiday party. These messages were small, yet very direct. He crossed the line and even began harassing her via text message. He was promptly terminated.

Avoid the post-party workplace holiday drama, an unwelcome trip to HR, and even getting fired by following these five workplace holiday party golden rules.

quicklist: 1title: Two-Drink Maximum text: Exert self-control and opt to limit yourself to two alcoholic beverages at your holiday workplace event. With alcohol inhibitions vanish. Keep from saying or doing something you will regret come Monday.

quicklist: 2title: Choose Your Date Wiselytext: While on the surface your workplace holiday party might look like a social event, it is a political and networking opportunity that revolves around work and your career. Opt to bring a responsible friend or your spouse, who can help you work the room, elevate your personal brand and keep you in check. Prep them on the politics and game plan before the holiday party begins.

quicklist: 3title: Hands Off and Eyes Uptext: Female employees are often dressed to the nines, showing skin. Keep your eyes up and hands off at all costs. Don't check that sexual-harassment training at the door, and remember to keep your conversation and compliments professional. You are on company time even if you are not clocked in.

quicklist: 4title: Your Evening Dress Should Be Professionaltext: Remember, all the world is a stage. Just because an event is after- hours, it is still work-related. Conservative evening attire is best. What kind of assets do you want to be remembered for during your annual employee review?

quicklist: 5title: Exit Early text: In this context, nothing good ever happens after midnight. Know your limit and excuse yourself before the inevitable gaffes come from someone else. Make an appearance, keep it professional, and get out. Consider making plans to meet up with your work friends minus your boss somewhere else after the event.

I once had a regional manager who got sick while on stage singing karaoke during a formal corporate holiday event. While he didn't lose his job, it was certainly embarrassing.

If successfully navigating the company holiday party sounds like a job, it's because that's exactly what it is. It's your career, and we want to keep working. Give your boss something good to remember you by as the company's fiscal year comes to a close. Don't become a January termination statistic as a result of your actions at the office holiday party.

Watch the full story on "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET