Lawyers can effectively kill the fun of any party, especially the hallowed tradition of the office holiday party. Recognizing that there is nothing more fun than seeing colleagues and clients enjoying holiday cheer together, we say ’tis the season to remember these important tips to avoid liability and disaster:
- Injuries occurring at a holiday party may be compensable by workers’ compensation. Consider the case of the inebriated co-worker who, on her way to receive a hearty handshake and an envelope containing an annual bonus, slips and falls. Despite the good cheer, the injury is compensable. This is only one of the many scenarios that cries out for careful monitoring and regulation of alcoholic consumption. To avoid liability, consider limiting the amount of alcohol provided by giving drink tickets to employees and ensuring that alcohol is served by a bartender trained to recognize and instructed to stop serving those who have had too much to drink.
- Beware the mistletoe. Holiday parties are notorious incubators of sexual harassment claims. Remember that despite everyone affirming, “what happens at the holiday party stays at the holiday party,” harassment can and often does occur. The subordinate / superior relationship does not change just because individuals are at the holiday party. Conduct unwelcome outside the holiday party is equally unwelcome beneath the mistletoe. In short, the rules do not change just because the events occur at a holiday party.
- The holiday party does not stop at the door’s threshold. Employees whose alcoholic consumption at the holiday party contributes to an automobile accident on the way home subject themselves and the employer to potential liability.
So, Ebenezer, what’s an employer to do?
- Make attendance at the holiday party voluntary. This will lessen the likelihood of claims being compensable by workers’ compensation.
- Where feasible, hold the party off-site. Emphasize that while the party is for company employees and guests, it is a social occasion not connected with the employer’s regular business activities. Nevertheless, remind employees that normal workplace rules of professional conduct and employer policies still apply.
- Invite spouses or guests so they can be a check on any unruly employee.
- If alcohol is consumed, serve food.
- Stop serving alcohol well before the party is scheduled to end.
- Provide alternative transportation to those who are not fit to drive.
- Holiday parties do not have to be filled with potential liability in order to achieve the purpose of camaraderie and thanking employees for a year well spent. By following these simple rules, the holiday cheer will not linger as a “humbug” at the beginning of the New Year.