‘Tis the season for shopping, celebrating… and the much anticipated office holiday party.
A holiday party is a nice way to show appreciation for employees, reward them for a job well done and to enjoy some camaraderie outside of work hours.
But what is meant to be a fun and harmless gathering can turn into a disaster for companies and individuals.
While alcohol is often times a part of social gatherings, we all know that excessive amounts of it can become a serious problem, especially when people get behind the wheel of a car.
In 2013, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-impaired diving crashes according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. This accounted for nearly ⅓ (or 31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States, as dictated from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In the past, only the person who was driving drunk could be held liable for injuries caused to another person. However, almost every state has adopted laws which create potential liability for a social host or establishment. With those statutes in place, a host can be liable for injuries to a third person caused by an intoxicated guest.
Another potential problem with alcohol at company parties is employees’ tendency to “loosen up” a little too much and do or say things which may not be typical of them, but that can lead to charges of sexual harassment.
Here are some suggestions and tips for you to lessen the chance of office party problems:
- Don't serve alcohol or limit alcohol consumption. If you choose to serve alcohol, give each employee a specific number of drink tickets. Or you could limit alcohol service to a certain period of time, such as the first hour of the party. Encourage your employees to not overindulge. Also, alcoholic beverages should cease being served one hour before the planned close of the party; non-alcoholic beverages will continue to be available.
- Encourage proper (business casual) attire. No one should be expected to wear formal dress for an office party, but at a minimum adhere to business casual rules for the workplace. Make sure you point out that inappropriate attire is not permitted at company events since you will be with coworkers, vendors and customers.
- Enforce the right behavior. No one at the company party should feel uncomfortable by someone else’s words or gestures. Parties aren’t held with the hopeful net result of a harassment complaint. Behavior while at the party should comport with that which is acceptable in the workplace under your respective harassment policies. This includes language--a holiday party is expected to be a joyous event, so please make sure your employees use only language which would be appropriate for the workplace setting.
- Consider requiring employees to give up their keys at the door. They can get them back only after a responsible person makes sure they're sober and can drive home safely. Doing so will eliminate the problem of liability toward your company and to the individual. An alternative to this is you can arrange for designated drivers or to reimburse cab rides home to ensure everyone returns safely.
- Allow gift giving, but don’t make it required. One thing you can do is have lottery door prizes available. However, do not encourage, but permit gift giving at the party. Gifts should not be obscene, offensive or of a sexually explicit nature.
- Avoid serving only appetizers. Serve heavier meals rich in protein and starches to absorb alcohol. That way, your employees will be able to drive home at the end of the night and avoid issues.
- Throw the party on a weeknight so that employees may be less likely to drink excessively. If there’s work the next day, it will discourage employees from being too heavy-handed with drinking.
Following those tips can help you avoid a legal headache. Be sure to make this holiday season a safe and enjoyable one! For questions regarding office holiday party tips, feel free to contact us.