Like many businesses, you skipped the annual office party last December, so your employees are probably looking forward to this year’s festivities. As an employer, however, you’re responsible for helping ensure their safety and comfort.
The purpose of a holiday party is to reward employees for their hard work and to give them a chance to unwind and socialize – within reason. Whether the party is on company property or an off-site venue, you could still bear liability for injury or other harm.
Two common sources of liability issues at holiday parties are alcohol and sexual harassment. Often, alcohol contributes to sexual harassment. It can also contribute to serious injuries – particularly if employees drive home under the influence.
Limiting or prohibiting alcohol
If you’re holding the party on-site, check with your insurer to see if you can permit alcohol to be served (or brought by employees). Check your own employee handbook as well to make sure you’re not doing anything that violates your own policies if you’ll be in the workplace.
If you have the party off-site, it’s best to limit access to alcohol. Having an open bar can be dangerous. Instead, provide one or two free drink tickets per person and cut people off after that – except for nonalcoholic drinks, which you should make plentiful.
It’s also best to stop serving alcohol at a certain point in the evening – at least an hour before the party is scheduled to end – and make desserts and other food available. Coffee doesn’t sober people up, but having food in their stomachs can help.
Encourage safe rides home
Suggest that employees put an Uber or Lyft app on their phones ahead of time so they’re prepared if they need a ride home. Enlist some of your employees to volunteer as designated drivers. Maybe you can reward them with a gift card or other perk. If an employee leaves your party and causes a crash, you could face serious liability.
Ahead of the party, remind employees that while you want them to relax and have fun, this is still a business function. No behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated during work hours will be tolerated at the party.
If you have questions regarding potential liability issues as you plan the party, it’s wise not just to consult your insurer but to get some legal guidance as well.