It’s the holidays! Time for festivities, visions of sugarplums, good cheer…and workplace holiday parties.
While employers want to recognize and thank employees for their hard work during the year, workplace holiday parties can become a liability concern. While you don’t want to be a Grinch, you also don’t want to host a holiday party that causes your employees discomfort or leads to sexual harassment or other complaints.
Examples of potential liability arising from workplace holiday parties include:
- An intoxicated employee breaks an ankle while showing off his moves on the dance floor; a possible workers’ compensation claim.
- A manager (sober or intoxicated) gets a little too “festive” with an employee under the mistletoe; a possible sexual harassment claim.
- An intoxicated employee is involved in an auto accident on the way home; a possible claim against the employer for serving the alcohol.
If alcohol is served at your office party, strongly consider regulating consumption:
- Hire a professional bartender or caterer who has liquor liability insurance to serve the drinks.
- Hold the party off-site at a location that has its own liquor liability insurance coverage.
- Limit alcoholic beverages to a predetermined number by passing out a limited number of drink tickets to each employee.
- Have plenty of nonalcoholic beverages available.
- Serve food.
Other general tips for hosting a litigation-free workplace party:
- Be mindful of differing religious and ethnic sensibilities. Call the gathering a holiday party, or some other nondenominational term to avoid claims of discrimination.
- Attendance should be voluntary unless business will be conducted.
- Make it clear that normal workplace rules of conduct apply – particularly if the party is on-site.
- Don’t hang mistletoe.
- Don’t have any games that encourage more physical contact than what would occur in a normal workday, for example, dance contests or Twister© challenges.
Finally, if there should be a problem during the party, management should treat it like any other workplace incident, following company protocols for investigating and acting upon claims of harassment, defamation or other inappropriate conduct.
A little forethought and planning can help avoid incidents that could dampen anyone’s holiday spirit.
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