Wishing for a Lawsuit Free Holiday Party
December 15, 2015
The holiday season is in full swing, and you have likely already planned the office holiday party. Although there are is no way to completely eliminate the risks associated with hosting a holiday party, the suggestions below will help minimize the risks, avoid liability and help ensure that your business and employees enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.
- First, confirm that your insurance policies cover your holiday party.
- Call it a holiday party, not a Christmas party.
- If you decorate, diversify and include symbols of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. If possible, chose secular decorations. A Christmas tree is a better choice than a nativity scene.
- From a racial, national origin, or religion standpoint, beware of holding the event at private club with restricted membership. Don’t hold the event at locations that are naturally provocative or not suitable for work, including, comedy clubs, casinos, or bars.
- Supervisors and managers should not pressure employees to attend. Some invitees will prefer to skip the holiday festivities. For example, a newly sober worker may feel uncomfortable in the presence of alcohol. Some employees may be Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not celebrate holidays. Another argument against being pushy: If employees feel compelled to go, you may have to pay for their time.
- If you invite employees’ families, invite “employee plus adult guest.” You don’t want to offend same sex or unmarried couples. If you allow employees to bring children to an event with alcohol, you risk serving alcohol to a minor.
- Be direct in telling employees, before the event, of your expectation that employees will treat each other with respect during the event and that company policies, including the code of conduct, the policy against harassment and the discipline policy, apply to these activities.
- Do not organize or participate in any after party. If an after party spontaneously happens, don’t attend if you are a manager or supervisor.
Beware of alcohol. When it comes to holiday events, alcohol is the root of most problems.
- Serve nonalcoholic beverages and food throughout the event to ensure employees are not drinking on an empty stomach.
- Have a bartender serve the alcohol. Ask the bartender to serve weak drinks. Letting employees serve themselves can encourage them to help themselves too often and pour too generously.
- Establish a maximum number of drinks that an individual can have. Give each attendee a limited number of “drink tickets.”
- Offer to pay for Cab, Uber, or Lyft rides home without having to go to a manager for approval. Make it clear that the fares will be covered without questions asked.
- Shorten the happy hour.
- Last call should be held at least two hours before the end of the event.
- Consider requiring employees to pay for their alcoholic drinks, then donate the payments to a charity.
Despite your best efforts, something inappropriate may happen. Office holiday parties tend to encourage employee to behave in ways they normally would not at work. Immediately investigate any claim of inappropriate conduct that arises related to the event. Take prompt corrective action as necessary. Contact counsel if you have any questions.