Holiday party season is upon us; but it’s important to remember that corporate parties can be a liability for the company and the employer. However, there are a number of ways employers can minimize their liability related to holiday parties, both before and during the party.
36 percent of employers have reported employee misconduct at holiday parties; including fistfights and harassment. Much of the misconduct is related to excessive alcohol consumption. Employers may be liable for the acts of their supervisors and employees under several legal theories. For example, employers may be civilly liable for negligent or intentional acts occurring within the “scope of employment.” Employers may also be liable for harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in violation of Title VII.
Pre-Holiday Party Necessities
Prior to the party, it’s important to review your company policies that prohibit drug and alcohol abuse, harassment, interoffice relationships, fighting, weapons and other misconduct. These policies do apply at holiday parties as well. Also, be sure to re-educate supervisors and employees about federal laws that prohibit harassment, retaliation and other provisions under the EEOC. Make sure they’re aware of the proper procedure for reporting and responding to harassment, discrimination or retaliation claims. It might be prudent to consider whether a private binding arbitration program for resolving employee claims is right for your company before anything happens.
Most holiday party misconduct is related to over-consumption of alcohol. If you choose to serve alcohol at a party, consider the following actions you could take to minimize your risk:
- Remind employees that normal rules of conduct apply to parties, and to drink responsibly
- Arrange for designated drivers, reduced cab fares or hotel room rates or even offer to pay or reimburse alcohol-impaired employees for cab fare or hotel expenses
- Tell employees attendance is not required
- Provide employees with a limited number of drink tickets
- Limit the length of the party and close the bar one hour before the end of the party
- Serve non-alcoholic beverages
- Do not serve punch or other concoctions that mask alcoholic content
- Provide food and entertainment to prevent drinking from being the focus of the party
- Serve foods that slow the assimilation of alcohol (i.e., those high in protein or starch) and not greasy or salty foods that encourage more consumption of liquids
- Have the party off-site at a professionally managed facility with bartenders who are trained to limit harm or liability
- Don’t allow employees to tend bar or provide alcohol
- Designate a responsible person to “monitor” the party and work with the event staff
- Schedule the party on a week night when employees are less likely to over-indulge
- Hire an off-duty policeman or security specialist to be present during and after the party
- Don’t hang mistletoe
- Make sure an ID checking system is in place so that underage employees or guests are not served alcohol
- Review your insurance policies for alcohol-related exclusions
While you can’t completely eliminate the risk of employer liability from parties, by planning appropriately you can reduce it. Happy Holidays!
This information originally appeared in Labor Lawyers, an online publication by Fisher & Phillips LLC (http://www.laborlawyers.com/plan-now-to-minimize-liability-for-holiday-party-misconduct)