Office Holiday Parties: Revel without Regret
Setnor Byer Insurance & Risk
Workers Compensation, Risk Management, Commercial Insurance
Many employers consider a company-wide holiday celebration an excellent opportunity for employees to mingle socially and get to know one another better. It’s also a chance for senior management to interact with employees they rarely see throughout the year. Though holiday parties can create a positive work environment, increase employee morale and promote teamwork, they can also expose employers to a number of potentially significant risks.
Perhaps the most significant risks involve alcohol. What happens if an employee becomes intoxicated and causes damage to something or someone? Though liability is determined on a case-by-case basis, employers may face a greater chance of being held responsible if:
attendance is, or is perceived to be, mandatory (e.g., everybody knows that being seen by the Vice President will enhance one's chances of a promotion);
the employer pays for or provides the alcohol; or
the employer conducts business during the holiday party.
Employers can take steps to reduce their potential liability, such as:
Collect car keys from all who drink. Toward the close of the party, assign designated drivers or call taxis for anyone who is too impaired to drive. If the party is in a hotel, reserve a block of rooms for the inebriated to spend the night.
Appoint someone in a position of authority to monitor alcohol consumption; including making certain that no alcohol is served to minors.
Serve a limited amount of alcohol, controlled through “drink coupons.” (i.e., two drinks per person). Close the bar once dinner begins.
Send a memo to all employees prior to the party stating clearly that a) employees who arrive inebriated will not be allowed in; b) employees cannot bring their own alcohol; c) excessive drinking will not be tolerated; and d) intoxication and inappropriate behavior at the party will be grounds for discipline.
Do not permit supervisors or managers to buy alcoholic beverages for employees.
Hold the party at an off-site location and use professional bartenders to serve and monitor alcohol consumption.
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