Holiday parties: proceed with caution

As the season for holiday office parties approaches, it’s important for employers planning parties to take steps to minimize liabilities, including workers’ compensation, discrimination, harassment, and third party injuries. While we’ve given some of these tips before, it’s a timely reminder to help ensure that cheer does not turn into a legal nightmare:

  1. Be sure workers understand that attendance is voluntary. This should be clearly stated in the invitation, whether it is an email or a flyer posted in the workplace. It’s very important to disassociate the holiday function from the employee’s job.
  2. Hold after work hours and off site, reducing the likelihood the party will be perceived as work related.
  3. Don’t encourage attendance by either implying attendance will help the employee advance or that failure to attend sends the message the worker isn’t a team player.
  4. Avoid presentation of awards, bonuses or other recognition that suggest employees are there for business reasons.
  5. Recognize that employees designated to plan and run the event may be considered in the scope of employment.
  6. Be cautious about inviting vendors, clients or others with whom you have a business relationship.
  7. Invite spouses and significant others. Although it is more costly, it helps to control behavior and establish the social nature of the event.
  8. Remind employees that normal workplace standards of conduct are to be respected. Parties, particularly when alcohol is served, can be lead to sexual harassment or discrimination claims. Treat any discrimination or harassment claims seriously and conduct appropriate investigations.
  9. Limit or do not serve alcohol. Do not have an open bar. Close the bar at least one hour before the end of the party. Be sure that alcohol is served by a professional bartender or at a licensed establishment that knows when to stop serving an individual. Serve plenty of food. Arrange for no-cost transportation for any employee who should not drive home.
  10. Confirm that the venue is properly licensed.
  11. Don’t allow employees to post company party images/comments on social media outlets without having a policy in place.
  12. Be careful of language and decorations – don’t call it a Christmas party or invite “husbands and wives.”
  13. Discuss your exposure with your insurance agent.

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