It is that time of year again; are you ready for your holiday party? An office holiday party is a great way to generate team spirit, a collegial atmosphere and show appreciation for your staff. However, hosting a large event carries some liability risks such as alcohol-related incidents and claims of sexual and other harassment. While careful preparation cannot eliminate all potential liability, here are some tips that may help reduce exposure and make the holidays safer and happier for all:
Don’t hold the party on a night when one or more of your employees will be unable to attend due to religious obligations (e.g., an Orthodox Jew cannot attend a party on a Friday night).
Allow everyone (or no one) to display signs of his or her holiday.
Make sure the Company does not prefer one holiday, or one religion, to another.
If hosting a party on-site, hire outside caterers to serve alcohol – this helps insulate the Company, should problems arise. Instruct the caterer not to serve alcohol to anyone who has already consumed a lot of alcohol (if they know) or who appears intoxicated or on the verge of intoxication. (Keep in mind that if an employee consumes alcohol at the party and then injures another person, it is possible that your company will be held liable or at least sued.) If intoxication is seen, ensure a designated management representative is notified.
Hold the party at an off-site location to shift some of the potential liability away from the Company – assuming this is financially reasonable.
Schedule the event during non-work hours and do not require employees to attend (attendance should be totally voluntary).
Arrange transportation for employees unable to drive home.
Provide plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.
Consider limiting the time during which alcohol may be served or a voucher system to limit the number of drinks served. But beware, vouchers often become the object of ridicule (and so does the Company).
Consider a “cash bar” which will likely reduce employee consumption of alcohol.
Invite the spouses, significant others, and children of employees.
Designate certain management personnel to attend and “oversee” the event.
Gently remind employees, through office memos, that excessive drinking, offensive conduct and other inappropriate behavior must be avoided so everyone has a nice time. Possibly use the presence of family as a gentle way to remind employees to stay under control. Writing such a memo is one of the toughest jobs you may have. Remember, unwelcome sexual contact and remarks can lead to sexual harassment charges – regardless of when and where they occurred.
Advise employees ahead of time that all complaints or concerns can be addressed to a specific person who can address them now or whenever they arise.
Brody and Associates wishes all our clients and friends a safe and prosperous Holiday Season. We offer assistance to management on these and all types of employment-related issues.