Holiday parties can be great for spreading holiday good cheer, motivating employees, and serving as the company’s appreciation for a job well done. However, if employers are not careful, holiday parties can also create big headaches in terms of legal liability. Harassment claims and drunken driving incidents are a couple of the most troublesome and worrisome elements of a holiday party.
So how can an employer limit such liability? Awareness of potential issues and careful planning can help.
- Alcohol at the party: Ideally, having no alcohol at such events greatly reduces risks of liability for an employer (e.g., injuries at the party, harassment/improper comments). However, if the company chooses to have alcohol at the event, take steps to limit the alcohol and ensure that sufficient food is served. Additionally, providing cab charge vouchers or otherwise arranging for the safe transportation home (having designated drivers or car pool system) can ensure that the company reduces issues of drunken employees traversing the roads.
- Define the scope of the party: Prior to the event, employees should be told the time at which the function will end. Employees should be reminded at the time the function actually ends. This is less of an issue when the event is held at the company’s facility that closes at the end of the event or at a private hall specifically reserved for the event than for parties held at a public space shared with other patrons.
- Event hosts: Having people at the party responsible to keep an eye on employees can help to minimize a company’s risk (to ensure that no one is excessively drinking or acting inappropriately towards other employees).
- Entertainment and venue: select options that will not likely offend guests.
- Promotion of event: attention should be given to promotion of the holiday party to prevent religious discrimination type lawsuits (e.g., not referring to it as a Christmas party) and to emphasize ground rules regarding the event and company policies.
A little bit of planning before the holiday party can drastically reduce liability issues for employers.