Holiday Parties Without the Lawsuit “Chaser”

Written By Gerry Kane

It’s that time of year again…
Time to plan the office holiday party.

It’s been a tough year everywhere and we’re all a little tempted to really let our hair
down and kiss this year goodbye with a bang.

Before you go overboard and really let your employees blow off some steam, remember
a little thing called liability.  You could ultimately be held responsible for not only what
happens at the company party but what happens on the way home.

 

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas™” does not apply.

Here are a few things to keep in the back of your mind while you’re lining up a band or
finding a good caterer, just to be on the safe side:
1. Hurt feelings last long beyond “last call”. Off-color jokes, sexual advances, and even fist fights are more common than you think at office parties.  When the alcohol wears off and everyone comes back to work, any of these can lead to employee complaints and some even lead to lawsuits.  How you handle the celebration from the very beginning can mean the difference between a pleasant evening filled with fond memories and a lengthy, expensive lawsuit. Business gatherings should always maintain professionalism while encouraging employees to have a good, safe time.
2. Leave religious preferences out of the celebration. Use the party to focus on the accomplishments of the year, not on any particular religious preference or group.  A Christmas party may be seen as insensitive to workers who practice other faiths.  Keeping the party as generic as possible will make everyone feel comfortable, included and appreciated.
3. Forget the “Open Bar”. Don’t provide unlimited alcohol to your employees.  Having too much to drink leads to bad decisions and poor judgment and can ultimately lead to accidents.  Have a cash bar or a ticket system that limits the number of drinks each employee can have.
4. Hire professional party help.  Hiring a professional bartender will go a long way toward controlling the flow of alcohol to party-goers. Professionals know what to look for and they can tell when someone has “over celebrated”.  Make sure they ask for ID from everyone to make sure that no underage drinking occurs.  And another word to the wise – if you let your managers or supervisors serve drinks, it can seriously undermine their authority when everyone comes back to work on Monday morning.
5. “On the Road” liability issues. Provide free taxi service home for any employee who has too much to drink.  It may not be cheap, but it’s cheaper than defending a lawsuit because someone gets hurt or worse on their way home because they had too much to drink.
6. Always include spouses. Having spouses or significant others at the party will not only cut down on improper behavior, it will give your employees a ride home if they have too much to drink.
7. Rules aren’t null and void just because it’s a holiday. Encourage your employees to relax and have a good time, but make sure they understand that workplace rules governing behavior are still in force.
8. Never, ever mix lavish holiday parties and layoffs. Spending a lot of money on a holiday party after you’ve laid off employees is not only in poor taste, it will wreck the morale of remaining staff members who may be living in fear of further layoffs.  It also increases the potential for lawsuits filed by laid off employees who hear about it.
These tips for planning holiday celebrations will help to keep you out of court in the coming year. It’s admirable to want to reward your employees for a job well done, but keep in mind that liability never takes a holiday.
If you own a business, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit and let’s talk about any potential liability issues that arise from employee functions.   As your personal legal advisors we will identify any liability issues you may be facing and what you need to do to fix them. Normally, this session is $1250, but if you mention this article and we still have room on our calendar this month, we will waive that fee