Holiday Party Dangers

With Thanksgiving behind us, the Holiday Party Season is upon us.  From Christmas to Festivus, and everything in between, many companies chose to have get-togethers at this time of year.  Following are some things to keep in mind this time of year.

Insurance

Now is a good time to review your insurance coverage to see if your policies cover you for any of the below issues.  If not, you may consider adding coverage.

Alcohol Liability

The laws on liability for injuries caused by alcohol consumption vary from state to state.  Several possibilities for liability exist, including:

  • Social host (Dram Shop) liability.  This essentially can hold the provider of alcohol liable for serving obviously intoxicated individuals and the injuries that they caused when intoxicated.

  • Common law negligence

  • Respondeant Superior.  This holds the employer liable for acts of employees.

Ways to reduce the risk

  • Don’t just leave the alcohol out for employees to self-serve.  Hire someone to handle the bartending or hold the event at an establishment with the serving done by their staff.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol consumed.  The easiest way to do this is to simply not serve alcohol.  If that is not something an employer wants to do, then:

    • Consider giving each employee and guest a limited number of tickets with which to procure alcohol;

    • Don’t make alcohol the focus of the party.  Provide entertainment, food, and non-alcoholic beverage options;

    • Consider the timing of the event.  Parties that occur earlier in the day are less likely to provide a venue for employees to overconsume.

  • Have transportation home.  Consider reimbursing employees for cabs, Uber, Lyft, or mass transit home after the party

  • Have lookouts.  Assign some responsible, overtime exempt, members of the staff to watch out for other employees that may have had too much to drink.  Ask other employees to come forward if they think a coworker is impaired.

Wage and Hour Claims

Attendance at the party can raise claims for pay by hourly employees.  To prevent those, do the following:

  • Be clear that attendance at the party is not mandatory.

  • Have the party outside normal work hours

  • Keep the party exactly that, a party.  Don’t try to engage in business during the party and don’t ask employees to do anything at the party that would benefit the employer.  If you do, the employee may claim they had to work off the clock.

Premises Liability and Workers’ Compensation

If the party is being held at the office, an employee could fall and injure themselves.  This risk goes up with the more alcohol that is served. 

To help minimize the risks, employers should consider having the party off-site.  Or, if held on-site, pre-plan to minimize potential hazards.

Sexual Harassment

This is another issue that generally increases with the amount of alcohol.  Even a little alcohol can lower inhibitions and cause issues.  Things that might seem funny under the influence of alcohol can be viewed as unwanted sexual advances or quid pro quo harassment to others.  Even if nothing comes from the immediate aftermath of a party, a disgruntled employee may use it down the road.

To reduce the risk of harassment, be clear with all that just because the party happens after-hours or off-site does not exclude the employer from liability from actions that occur.  A reminder that all of the company’s regular policies are still in effect is a good practice.