As much as this is a festive and joyous time of the year for your holiday office party, it can be a legal nightmare if you are not prepared. The holiday party can lead to sexual harassment complaints as well as social host liability suits. The following is a list of precautions you can take to minimize your risk of liability:
- The biggest way to avoid trouble at your party is to skip the alcohol. Alcohol clearly lowers inhibition and impairs judgment and makes employees act in a way that they normally would not act at work. Consider serving apple cider or non-alcoholic beer. If you must serve alcohol, hire a bartender to mix and serve the drinks. Instruct the bartender to “water down” the drinks as well as offer plenty of non-alcoholic drinks. Make sure the bartender will stop serving to anyone who appears intoxicated. Another option is give everyone drink tickets to limit consumption. Also stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the end of the party.
- Food is an important factor if you will be serving alcohol. Serve plenty of appetizer so that employees are not drinking on an empty stomach.
- Remind employees before and at the party not to drink and drive. Before the party, designate supervisors and managers to stay sober and arrange for car pools. Inform your employees well before the party that if they appear drunk, they will not be allowed to drive home. Also ask your managerial staff to watch out for who appears intoxicated and make sure that they do not drive home. Arrange a head of time to have taxis take anyone home who has had too much to drink.
- Inviting spouses is also a great way to keep the party sober. Inviting spouses tends to keep employees more sober and encourage appropriate behavior.
- Holiday parties tend to bring out the office romance and sexual harassment. The alcohol tends to encourage the shy, fearful employee to ask out a colleague or engage in unwanted sexual conduct. Before the party, inform all your employees about the company’s anti-harassment policy and that it applies to the holiday party. Let them know that any complaints will be investigated and disciplinary action will be taken for harassment. Have your supervisors watch for any inappropriate conduct and be ready to cut it off. Don’t hang mistletoe or allow anyone to dress up as Santa. This only encourages sexual behavior which can lead to unwanted advances.
- Confirm with your insurance carrier that you have enough coverage in the event of an alcohol related accident.
Keep in mind that the holiday party is still an office party and remind your employees to enjoy themselves but to remain professional. They shouldn’t do anything that they normally wouldn’t do while at work. Our attorneys have helped many businesses make sure that they have minimized any potential liability that may arise. If you’re planning a holiday party, call our experienced attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to help you protect your company from any holiday related liability.
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