The holiday season is an
ideal time to thank employees for the year’s hard work and celebrate the
successes of the company. But with the let-loose attitude of holiday parties,
employers often disregard the liabilities involved in throwing a company bash,
especially when alcohol is being served.
Employment law expert, Christopher J. Boman, a partner with the Irvine, Calif. office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, warns employers to prepare for possible legal issues that could make for an unpleasant event, or even get them sued. Each year a significant number of employers report behavioral problems at their holiday company party ranging from excessive drinking, to off-color jokes, to sexual advances and fist fights.
“It’s natural for employers to want to reward a year of dedicated service to the company. While that in itself doesn’t pose an issue, it’s how employers handle the celebration that becomes important. Employers need to be cognizant of the legal liabilities they could face if precautions are not taken before the festivities begin.”
― Christopher J. Boman
Boman recommends business owners consider a number of potential liability issues this holiday season, including:
Keep Religion Out of the Party―Employers should avoid any religious ties to holiday parties, and ensure the celebration is more focused on gratitude for the year’s successes. Keep in mind that a Christmas party may appear insensitive to some employees and throwing a generic holiday party will ensure everyone feels comfortable.
Avoid Mixing Lavish Parties & Layoffs―Consider the message sent by throwing an extravagant party after conducting layoffs. Can you justify the celebration costs when foregoing it could have kept a few staff members employed for a few months? Morale of current staff concerned about additional layoffs could also be an issue, as well as the potential for lawsuits from disgruntled former staff that hear about the party.
The Not-So-Open Bar―Don’t have an “open bar” where employees can drink as much as they want. Instead, have a cash bar or use a ticket system to limit the number of drinks served.
Let a Pro Control the Flow―Hire professional bartenders (don’t ever use supervisors!) and instruct them to report anyone who they feel has “over enjoyed.” Ensure that bartenders require positive identification from guests who do not appear to be substantially over 21.
Drive Away Liability Issues―Arrange for a no-cost taxi service for any employee who feels that he or she should not drive home from the holiday event. Also, if business owners host a party at their home and are serving alcohol, they should be aware of the personal liability they may face if someone drives off from the party drunk.
Invite Their Better Half―Invite spouses and significant others so that there will be someone there to help keep an eye on your employees and, if necessary, get them home safely.
Rules Are Rules―Remind employees that, while you encourage them to have a good time, your company’s normal workplace standards of conduct will be in force at the party and misconduct at or after the party can result in disciplinary action.
Consider Alternative Celebrations―Companies can take a portion of the money traditionally spent on the holiday party and donate it to a charity in need. Another option is to consider a company potluck or other event that’s still social and fun.
Don’t Leave Anyone Hungry —Keep in mind that there may be differing food preferences amongst employees, including those who are vegetarians, lactose intolerant, or don’t eat certain types of meat. Serve a wide variety of offerings to accommodate everyone.
Protect Your Image—With smartphone cameras capturing memories of the event and posting on social media sites occurring in real time, Boman warns companies that a combination of alcohol and social media can be the recipe for “inappropriate” image disasters.
Fisher & Phillips LLP has developed a long-standing and nationally recognized expertise in labor law in order to benefit the rights of employers on a national and state level. Fisher & Phillips offers a wide range of services to private and public sector clients, both unionized and non-unionized. With a focus on both preventive services and defense of claims, the firm addresses the business and legal objectives of employers in a way that optimizes their clients’ performance in today’s changing marketplace. To learn more about Fisher & Phillips LLP, visit www.laborlawyers.com.