Work Holiday Parties: Tips for Employers to Reduce Liability

The most delightful time of the year has finally here – the holiday season! Are you getting ready to host an office holiday party like many other companies this season? Holiday parties are a great way to build morale among workers and foster a positive company culture.

However, business owners also need to be aware of a number of potential legal issues that could arise over the holiday season. Business owners must be aware of, and prepared for, a wide range of potential problems, including those related to alcohol consumption, discrimination, harassment, and health and safety. It is impossible for business owners to completely shield themselves from legal action in the event of a lawsuit involving company-sponsored events, but they can take measures to reduce their vulnerability. A few simple precautions can make your office party fun for everyone and protect your company from legal trouble.

  • Reduce your potential liability for workers’ compensation

It’s more likely that someone will get hurt at a holiday party if there’s a lot of alcohol involved. If an employee becomes hurt or sick on the job, they may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Have you thought about what might happen if one of your employees gets hurt at the holiday party? To avoid this risk at a company-hosted holiday party, business owners should emphasise that employees’ presence is entirely voluntary, that they will not be receiving any payment for attending, and that the company will not be held liable for any actions taken or statements made by employees while at the party. Business owners should only contract with approved third parties who carry their own insurance to avoid legal liability in the event of illness caused by contaminates in the food or drink they offer.

  • Minimize the Possibility of Accidents Caused by Alcohol

When employees drink alcohol at work-related functions, the company could be held liable for any resulting damage. In order to limit their legal exposure, business owners should encourage sobriety and strict alcohol monitoring policies. Holiday parties should ideally be held at a restaurant or other off-site location with trained bartenders who can identify and address visibly intoxicated guests. The workplace should be a safe space, free of undue alcohol pressure and encouragement. Finally, business owners that fret about their employees’ ability to get home safely after a party could provide transportation home in the form of a shuttle service or ride-sharing programme.

  • Prevent discrimination and harassment

It is critical that no event-related actions are discriminatory or offensive. Do you have all of your staff members’ responses to your party invitation? Have you made sure that your office party won’t fall on a date when people around the world are celebrating their faith? Have you ensured that the office holiday party is welcoming to all employees, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any other protected class? What about calling the office celebration something neutral, like a “Holiday Party” instead of a “Christmas Party” to avoid offending anyone?

Be sure your staff is aware of your zero-tolerance harassment policy and that this includes any form of harassment, even that which may occur at a Christmas party. Employees should know that the holiday party is a company-sponsored function, therefore the same rules and regulations that apply to any other workday still hold. You should take necessary action if you learn of any inappropriate behaviour at the holiday party. If you hear any complaints about the Christmas party, it is imperative that you keep detailed records of the occurrence and conduct an appropriate inquiry.

  • Prevent overtime payment claims

Workers who are not excluded from federal minimum wage and overtime laws must be compensated for time spent at work-related functions. Business owners should make it clear that attendance at a holiday party is entirely voluntary, hold the party outside of normal working hours, and ensure that no work is performed during the party and that employees are not under the impression that they are performing work to avoid having the time spent at the party count as compensable under state or federal wage and hour law.

Holiday parties at the workplace can be a great way to boost morale and bond the staff as a whole. However, there are a number of legal considerations that business owners must undertake to ensure the workplace is safe, including issues of discrimination, health and safety requirements, injury liability, harassment, and alcohol consumption. Business owners can’t eliminate all Christmas party hazards, but they may lessen the impact and provide a party where their employees can relax and enjoy themselves by following these guidelines. If an issue does develop, however, it is imperative that business owners treat each complaint seriously and launch an investigation without delay.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at The Walsh Law Firm if you have any concerns or questions about planning a holiday party for your workplace.