The Company Holiday Party – Suggestions for Having Fun and Avoiding Liability

The holidays are swiftly approaching. Employees are beginning to embrace the magic of the season and employers are preparing for the annual holiday party. While the proper do’s and don’ts surrounding holiday parties may seem obvious to some, Creative Business Solutions would like to take a moment to remind employers about the potential liability surrounding company holiday parties, and provide some appropriate suggestions to help your company avoid any problems from these special holiday celebrations.

First, attendance at holiday parties should be voluntary for both practical and legal reasons. From a practical perspective, some employees may simply not want to attend for a host of reasons. From a legal perspective, making attendance voluntary helps protect employers from potential wage claims or worker’s compensation claims.

Second, employers should remind employees of the overall expectations of the company holiday party prior to the celebration. Ensure all employees understand and agree to abide by the guidelines and expectations set forth by the company. Also, it may be helpful to remind employees that the employee handbook and/or company policies and procedures also apply to holiday parties – including policies regarding harassment, discrimination and social media.

Cautionary note: Employers may be liable for employees’ negligent or intentional acts occurring within the “scope of employment”, including harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in violation of Title VII. The liability is considerable and employers should take the risk very seriously. The suggestions below related to harassment and social media are important to consider when planning your holiday party.

Third, the most common cause of holiday party liability lies in alcohol. Employers could simply decide to omit alcohol altogether to reduce potential liabilities. However, we understand being an adult and enjoying an alcoholic beverage can be satisfying, if kept within the appropriate limits. If your company decides to include alcohol at the holiday party, there are suggestions to consider below.

One method of avoiding overconsumption of alcohol is to provide employees with “drink tickets” or a “cash bar”. This will encourage employees to limit their alcohol intake and avoid the liability of employees driving home from the party while intoxicated.

Finally, consider these tips when putting the final touches on your holiday party plans:

· Arrange for designated drivers, discounted hotel rooms, reimbursement for cab fare, or other techniques that will discourage employees from driving after the holiday party is over.

· Provide food and entertainment to prevent alcohol from being the primary focus of the party. It may be helpful to provide foods that are high in protein or starch, rather than greasy or salty foods which encourage more liquid consumption.

· Decide on a location to have the party which is off-site at a professionally managed facility that provides professional bartenders who are trained to limit harm or liability. Never allow a supervisor to serve drinks.

· Remind employees about the social media policies in effect and make certain they understand the social media guidelines. No one wants to relive the holiday party highlights – or lowlights – on social media websites.

· Do not encourage the exchange of gifts, as some may be considered inappropriate and could result in sexual harassment complaints.

· Do not hang mistletoe. No good can result from mistletoe at a company holiday party.

· Encourage employees to bring their spouses or significant others as guests to the holiday party. The presence of these individuals may prevent opportunities for sexual harassment between employees and their peers.

· Don’t hand out bonuses or service awards at the holiday party because that increases the perception the party is a work function rather than a social event.

The holidays are a great time to get together and celebrate the successes of the current year and prepare for the challenges and rewards of the coming year. By keeping these tips in mind for your company’s holiday gathering you are sure to have the makings for a great get-together.

Creative Business Solutions specializes in ensuring each of our valued clients is in compliance with all laws and regulations applicable to their respective businesses. Please call us today and we will be pleased to assist you with any HR compliance issue you may be experiencing. And the happiest of holidays to each of you from all of us at CBS!

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