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Don’t Let Your Holiday Party Get Scrooged!

It is that time of year again when the Company throws its holiday party. While the Company wants to celebrate the successes of the year and boost employee morale, it also has an obligation to ensure the party does not get out of hand.  If employees are three sheets to the wind, swinging from the rafters, or playing spin the bottle in the supply closet, things have gone incredibly wrong.  Not only are these types of incidents inappropriate in a business setting, they expose the Company to huge liability.  For instance, once the alcohol has worn off the Company may be facing claims of sexual harassment, workers’ compensation, or even wrongful death caused by over indulgent partiers. To avoid Scrooge this holiday season, prepare for the holiday party just as the Company would for any other potential liability.  Below are a list of tips to maximize the good times while  minimizing the risk of  litigation when hosting the Company holiday party.

  1. Planning: Create a plan for your party well in advance including potential issues that may arise. Remind employees that you expect them to act professionally and to follow all company policies including those related to sexual harassment, discrimination, and inter-office relationships.
  2. Invitees: Decide if it is beneficial to invite employees with guests who might tame (or inflame) the party. Try to ensure employees do not bring former employees.
  3. Theme: Your party should not be specific to a particular religion but celebrating 12 months of good effort. Attendance should be voluntary.
  4. No Romance: Avoid customs that encourage the wrong types of behavior such as hanging mistletoe or playing beer pong. Do not instruct the DJ to play Marvin Gaye songs.
  5. Boots on the Ground: Ensure your key managers understand that you expect them to circulate at the party to ensure employees are acting reasonably. You might draft a plan of who is in charge of checking the foyer, parking lot, side rooms, bathrooms, and any other problem areas (including the bar).  Impress upon these managers that you are relying on them to set the tone of the party.  Have you ruined the party for your key managers?  Maybe and maybe they need a party of their own!
  6. Alcohol: It is crucial to talk candidly with your key managers and decide if it makes sense to have alcohol and if it does, consider.

    1. A venue that is not near a bar.
    2. Hold the party at a restaurant or off-site location with a liquor license and where alcohol is served by professional bartenders who are familiar with how to respond to guests who are consuming excessive amounts of alcohol (and also is properly insured in case things go wrong).
    3. Greet employees as they arrive to ensure only invited guests attend and that none have alcohol with them.
    4. Hold the party on a weekday or early in the day with a definite end time.
    5. Limit alcohol by using tickets, serving only beer and wine, or shutting the bar an hour or more before the end of the party.
    6. Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
    7. Hire professional bartenders. Make sure the bartender accepts liability for serving intoxicated guests.
    8. Have a taxi service (maybe at no charge) openly available in case it is needed
  7. Workers’ Compensation Liability: Make attendance voluntary so if an employee is injured at the party, you can argue the injury was not work-related. BUT, if you succeed, you can be sued and workers’ compensation will not protect you. Pick your poison.
  8. Check for Liability: Review your insurance (workers’ compensation and other policies) to determine your liability for employees, third parties, and alcohol exclusions.
  9. Post-Party Issues: Touch base with your key managers after the party to see if anything occurred of which you should be aware and ask employees how they liked the party. This is a good way to ensure that no problems occurred and if they did, to handle those issues immediately.

We offer assistance to management on these and all types of employment-related issues. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.