When you host a holiday party, how do you walk the tightrope of wanting your employees to have a great time without getting sued for sexual harassment, wage and hour claims, or workers’ compensation liability?
Each company has its own work culture, which generally defines their party culture as well. I’ve attended holiday lunches sans alcohol as well as those where alcohol was free flowing.
Although the presence of alcohol tends to make the event more festive and the conversation free-flowing, it’s usually at those parties that I’ve looked over and asked myself “did I really just see that?”
Here are 10 Things to help your company host a holiday party without getting sued.
1. Skip the Mistletoe
This one is self-explanatory.
2. Address employer-sponsored social functions in your handbook
Your harassment policy should specifically address company-sponsored social events. In particular, consider providing specific examples of unacceptable behavior at these functions.
If you do gift exchanges, remind employees that risqué or adult-themed gifts should not be exchanged with co-workers.
3. Host the holiday party at a restaurant or other off-site location
Employers may want to hold holiday events at establishments with a liquor license and where alcohol is served by professional bartenders who know how to respond to guests who are consuming alcohol to excess.
4. Hire a professional bartender or caterer
If the event is held on company premises, consider hiring a professional bartender or caterer to serve any alcoholic beverages.
Confirm that the caterer carries liability insurance and instruct bartenders or wait staff not to serve drinks to anyone who is visibly intoxicated. Employees should not be permitted to stand in as bartenders or otherwise serve drinks to co-workers.
5. Limit the amount of alcohol that will be served
You can do so by:
- providing a limited number of drink tickets or limiting the time during which alcohol will be served;
- providing entertainment to shift the focus of the event away from alcohol to something else; and
- making a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and food available as an alternative to alcoholic beverages.
6. Provide alternative transportation
Consider providing transportation or reimbursing employees for rides from company-sponsored events at which alcohol is served.
7. Encourage employees to look out for intoxicated co-workers
Encourage employees to notify management if another employee appears overly intoxicated; and consider designating certain employees as “spotters” to look out for colleagues who may have had too much to drink, but be sure not to designate employees who may be nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to avoid claims that they were required to work off the clock and therefore are entitled to additional compensation.
8. Check if you’re insured
Employers may purchase insurance covering Dram Shop or liquor law liability. Review their existing coverage before purchasing a new policy because a comprehensive general liability policy may provide sufficient coverage.
9. Separate work from play
Disassociate the holiday function from employees’ jobs by:
- letting employees know that there is no business purpose for the event and attendance is not mandatory; and
- hosting the event off employer premises.
10. Don’t let non-exempt employees work
- Inform employees that attendance at the party is voluntary.
- Hold the party outside normal business hours.
- Refrain from engaging in any business during the event, including:
- speeches about business matters; and
- distribution of bonuses or performance awards.
- Avoid asking employees to perform any specific functions at the party for the benefit of the employer to avoid claims that they were required to work off the clock.
If you need assistance reviewing your harassment policy or reviewing your insurance policy, do not hesitate to e-mail me or call (949) 529-0007.
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