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‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly, But Not Too Jolly—Tips to Reduce Employer Liability at Your Company’s Holiday Party.

Holiday parties hosted by employers are a wonderful way to promote company culture and boost employee morale.  Unfortunately, ringing in the holiday spirit can sometimes result in career-altering behavior that causes problems for employees and employers.  Holiday parties can be an excuse for employees to cut loose and can result in a number of problems from harassment allegations to assault claims to driving under the influence.

In the current social media-driven environment, drunken tomfoolery at a holiday party can quickly become public for the whole world to see.  Employers can be held liable for inappropriate conduct at holiday parties, especially if the conduct is severe or one in a string of inappropriate advances.  In addition, courts in many states have held that hosts, including employers, who serve liquor may be held liable for injuries to others as a result of accidents or injuries caused by an employee’s intoxication. For example, an employer may be exposed to liability where an employee causes an accident on the way home from a company function after overdrinking.

Here, we offer some tips to keep your end-of-the-year parties from ending your employee’s careers and minimizing employer’s risks when sponsoring work-related parties.  Of course, the safest way to avoid alcohol-related misconduct is to simply not serve alcohol.  However, many employers do not want to be considered a Scrooge and many holiday parties do include this form of merriment. Therefore, perhaps a more realistic approach may be to require employees to exercise moderation and good judgment. Below are some practical tips for those hosting a holiday party:

+ Host a “Holiday Party” and not a “Christmas Party” to make certain your party is sensitive to everyone irrespective of their religious beliefs.

+ Before the party, remind employees that workplace rules, including anti-harassment rules, apply at all company-sponsored events, including parties.

+ Employees should know that misconduct at a company-hosted event is the equivalent of misconduct at work. As such, prior to the party, remind employees to behave professionally and not drive while intoxicated.

+ Have your holiday party earlier in the day as people tend to drink less.

+ Make it a family affair- inviting spouses, significant others and children to the holiday party is a great way to reduce inappropriate behavior, flirtation among employees and excessive drinking.

+ If alcohol is served, have non-alcoholic options available and be sure to serve food.

+ Skip the open bar. Consider limiting alcohol to wine and beer or using a ticket system to limit the number of drinks per person.

+ Identify certain managers and/or supervisors to stay sober and watch out for employees to ensure a safe holiday party. Ask managers and supervisors to keep an eye on their subordinates, ensuring that they do not overindulge or drive after having too much to drink.

+ Use professional bartenders who are trained not to over-serve customers. Also, bartenders should request identification if minors are attending. Do not permit managers or supervisors to bartend.

+ Some holiday traditions are best left at home. Mistletoe has no place in an employer-sponsored holiday party and may create a situation with unwanted touching at the holiday party.

+ Cut off drinks at least one hour before the end of the party, and continue to have food and non-alcoholic beverages available during this time.

+ Arrange post-party transportation for the employees at no cost to them. Provide vouchers for a shuttle or taxi or provide reimbursement for Uber or Lyft services to transport partygoers.

+ Discourage after parties. Instruct managers and supervisors not to attend an after party.

+ Finally, should an inappropriate incident occur that is a violation of the company’s anti-harassment policy, promptly investigate it, even if no formal complaint is made.

Holiday parties are a wonderful way to boost morale, express gratitude and show employees how much their contributions meant throughout the year.  Using the above tips will help both employees and employers enjoy a fun holiday party without any lasting consequences.

We wish you a jolly and safe holiday season!

Authored by: Robin Banck Taylor