What to Know About Holiday Office Parties

 

Q: Do you have any tips on avoiding potential legal pitfalls with company Holiday parties?

A: Tis the season for many employers to host a holiday party to cultivate employee engagement and spread holiday good cheer. Such parties can motivate employees and serve as a thank you for a job well done. However if the employer is not careful, holiday parties can also create legal liability. Here are a few tips that can assist you with careful planning and provide you with best practices to prevent such unpleasant after-effects.

Holiday Party:

Avoid linking the celebration to a religious holiday.

Make attendance voluntary:

Ensure all employees feel welcome but don’t make them feel like their attendance is mandatory.

Food and beverage:

If you will be serving alcohol, consider distributing drink tickets vs. extending an open bar. That will limit alcohol consumption. The beverage station is most effective if servers/bartenders are used. Do not use your employees as bartenders. In all cases be sure there are plenty of food rich in protein and starches, as well as non-alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, an employer may be held liable for employees’ actions during any type of company-sponsored party, as well as for any injuries incurred. To top it off, employees who are injured at company-sponsored holiday parties may be eligible to receive worker’s compensation benefits.

Potential Claims:

No matter how well intentioned, office holiday parties tend to encourage employees to behave in ways that they normally would not when at work. Employers should consider the following steps to reduce the risks of an employee violating these policies at the holiday party:

• Confirm that your insurance policies cover your holiday party.
• Remind employees of the company’s code of conduct as well as its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies the week before the holiday party.
• Remind employees that these policies apply to company-sponsored social events both inside and outside of the office.
• Remind employees that they will be subject to discipline if they violate these policies during the holiday party.
• Remind employees that any “after party” is not sponsored by the company.
• Remind supervisors of these policies and what to do if they learn of or witness any potential violation of these policies during the holiday party.
• Consider inviting spouses and partners of employees to the party.
• Consider implementing a dress code that maintains a professional environment.

Providing Transportation:

Transportation can be an issue for employers when alcohol is being served at the holiday party here are some ideas.

• Employee Shuttle Service-Are any of your employees staying at a hotel after the festivities are over? Book a shuttle service and your employees can travel safely back and forth from the event.
• Encourage people to have a designated driver
• Uber or Lyft is an option for many companies and taxis can be on standby, while the company can offer vouchers for each.

 

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