Many of us look forward to holiday celebrations with co-workers but sometimes too much holiday fun can result in trouble for an employer. Especially Europeans, with their passion for having a good time, should be extra alert. Sexual harassment allegations, assault complaints and other related claims stemming from the annual holiday party have become more and more prevalent over the years in the United States.
As much as we enjoy them, the unfortunate reality is that company-sponsored holiday parties create an increased risk of liability for employers. Here are some basic steps to undertake to reduce the risk of liability, while allowing the holiday party to continue in the spirit intended.
The safest recommendation is to skip the alcohol altogether. A very few complaints stem from holiday parties that did not involve the consumption of alcohol. However, if you choose to permit alcohol to be served at a company sponsored event, here are some ways in which you can minimize your potential liability:
– Retain outside service providers to handle all alcohol and bartending duties and never allow a company manager to serve drinks to other employees.
– Instruct bartenders to cut off service to employees who appear to be intoxicated.
– Consider serving only beer and wine at the party, as avoiding the service of spirits that tend to intoxicate people more rapidly.
– Consider having a cash bar or limiting the number of free drinks per person or distributing drink tickets to limit alcohol consumption.
– By serving food in conjunction with alcohol, employers can help diminish the effects of alcohol and prevent employees from becoming intoxicated at the holiday party.
– Remind employees not to drive if they intend to drink and/or provide alternative transportation options for all employees at company expense.
– Encourage the use of prearranged designated drivers or public transportation and invite employees’ spouses and partners to attend the party, to encourage the availability of designated drivers.
– Any employee who appears to be intoxicated should be provided with a ride home.
Despite your best effort to train managers and instruct your employees, someone is bound to forget about the employer’s anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies as well as its more general code of conduct, all of which apply and must be enforced at any company-sponsored holiday party. Employers should remind employees of the company’s code of conduct as well as its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies before the holiday party.
Although there is really no way to completely avoid the risks associated with hosting a holiday party, implementing some or all the above suggestions may help an employer minimize the risks, avoid liability and help ensure that your employees enjoy a safe and happy holiday season.
Happy Holidays to all of you!