Tina Harkness, Membership Development
Holiday parties are a great way to celebrate the season and reward employees for their hard work all year. Holiday parties can also expose employers to unintended liability, especially when alcohol is involved.
Before the Party:
- Plan year-end social events to be inclusive of different religions, cultures, and viewpoints.
- Make the party voluntary as this minimizes the potential for the event being seen as work time for wage and hour, workers’ compensation, or other legal purposes. Holding the event off-site, outside of normal work hours, and without customers or clients in attendance are recommended for the same reason.
- Clarify your expectations of employees and guests ahead of time. Communicate that the company wants everyone to have fun at the party and to drink responsibly and behave appropriately. A sample communication can be found in our FYI Workers’ Compensation: Managing Liability for Recreational, Athletic, and Social Activities.
- Offer options for overnight accommodations at the party location or alternative transportation home to employees who do not feel able to drive themselves.
- Contact your insurer as some policies cover off-premises events, or additional coverage may be available at a reasonable cost.
During the Party:
- Control service of alcohol. Under no circumstances should alcohol be served to obviously intoxicated individuals or minors. One of the best ways to manage this is to hire professional bartenders to require proof of age and to cut off partygoers who have had too much. Self-service situations should be avoided.
- Control alcohol consumption. Limiting and monitoring consumption is also essential to reducing potential liability. Distributing drink tickets or setting drink limits is one option. Food should be served to slow the absorption of alcohol. Alcohol service should stop at least an hour before the end of the event. In addition, make non-alcoholic drink options available.
- Do not hang any mistletoe! Sad, but true, employees are less careful about their conduct at after-hours events where alcohol is involved.
- Designate party monitors to “work” the party, keeping an eye out for inappropriate behavior including obviously intoxicated employees or guests. The monitors should intervene early if a situation appears to be developing and know what alternatives to offer.
After the Party:
- Investigate any complaints arising from conduct at the party. Failure to respond to complaints can lead to even greater liability.
- Take corrective action for inappropriate behavior by employees consistent with your policies and practices. Contrary to what employees might think, their conduct at your party can be the source of disciplinary action and even termination of employment. If you have let guests know ahead of time to drink responsibly and behave appropriately, such action is reasonable follow-up.
Any more questions about your holiday activities? Call us at 800.884.1328. We are happy to help.
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