How to Avoid a Company Holiday Party Disaster – Suggestions for Having Fun and Avoiding Liability

The holidays are again upon us. 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, CBS 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 problems from these special holiday celebrations and enjoy the festivities.

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, social media and your dress code. Finally, in view of the new overtime regulations, it may be prudent to make your company party voluntary to avoid potential overtime compensation claims.

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 following suggestions relating to harassment and social media are important to consider when planning your holiday party:

  • 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 “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 will result from the mistletoe at a company holiday party.
  • Encourage employees to bring their spouses or significant others as a guest to the holiday party. The presence of these individuals may prevent opportunities for sexual harassment between employees and their peers.

The most common cause of holiday party disasters 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, consider these suggestions:

  • Decide on a location to have the party which is off-site at a professionally managed facility that provides bartenders who are trained to limit harm or liability. Never allow a supervisor to serve drinks.
  • Provide employees with "drink tickets". This will encourage employees to limit their alcohol intake, while also avoiding the liability of employees driving home from the party while intoxicated.
  • 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.
  • Arrange for designated drivers, hotel rooms, reimbursement for cab fare, Uber or other various techniques that will discourage employees from driving after the holiday party is over.

The holidays are a great time to get together and celebrate the successes of 2016 and prepare for the challenges and rewards of 2017. 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.

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