Holiday Parties and Liability

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Who among us hasn’t “made rather merry” during the holiday season? For businesses hosting holiday parties – more than 90% of them in 2014 – making merry must be done carefully. Holiday parties foster an atmosphere that, when done right, can serve to show your employees appreciation for their efforts. Still, companies that choose to host a holiday gathering must do so with an eye toward their liability in such a situation.

Making Rather Merry… Prudently

Companies choosing to host a holiday party for their employees would be wise to consider the following:

  • Hold the party offsite – Not only does getting away from the office boost employee morale, holding your company party at a hotel or restaurant shifts a portion of the liability onto the venue; most hold a liquor license and use their own employees to serve guests.
  • Include spouses and family – By extending a party invitation to your employees’ spouses, plus-ones, and families, it feels more like a social occasion and less like a business function. Additionally, making the party family-friendly can help to mitigate poor behavior.
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol – Alcohol can relax a business mindset, but too much imbibing can be…well, too much. You have several options when it comes to serving alcohol at a company party. If you’re not inclined to eliminate it completely from the party (and many companies aren’t), then a cash bar staffed by a trained bartender can help to regulate consumption. If you’re feeling generous, you can offer vouchers for one or two drinks. Close the bar an hour before the party’s scheduled end, as well. And always make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available all evening.
  • Serve food – Ample food – not just a few hors d’oeurves – will help reduce alcohol consumption as well as make your party guests feel appreciated… which is one of the main reasons you’re having a holiday party, right?
  • Offer transportation options – Provide a voucher for cab service or encourage attendees to use a designated driver.
  • Offer negotiated rates for lodging – If you choose to hold your holiday party at a hotel, negotiate a group rate for those who would like to stay overnight.
  • Consider an alternative to evening or weekend parties – If you’re looking to hold the line on costs as well as liability, consider a workday party such as a luncheon or potluck. During this busy season, such an event may be a welcome break from the workday.

Employee Responsibility

Holiday parties can be fraught with tension for employers and employees alike; many employees don’t socialize with their coworkers outside of the office, so for some, this is new territory. Employees would do well to consider their responsibilities at the office party, too.

  • Go easy on the alcohol – Your employer may limit the amount of alcohol served, but ultimately the responsibility for your consumption is yours.
  • Remember your manners – Don’t do anything that would make you the subject of office gossip (and possibly disciplinary action) in the days and weeks following the party. This includes off-color jokes, ill-advised dance moves, and unwelcome attention paid to a coworker.
  • Don’t talk business – a holiday party isn’t the place to hold an impromptu meeting, and it’s definitely not the place to take others to task. Save your concerns and potential confrontations for the workweek, where there is no alcohol involved.
  • Be appreciative – Your boss or company owner went to a lot of trouble to put on a holiday event for the staff. Even if you plan a classic “Irish goodbye” (slipping out unnoticed before the end of the party), express your appreciation to the person in charge.
  • Dress appropriately – Office dress code rules are still applicable for the company party; even if it’s a casual, jeans-and-an-ugly-sweater party, don’t step too far away from appropriate dress.
  • Resist the urge to keep the party going – If you’re one of the last ones to leave the party, don’t suggest continuing the celebration elsewhere.

Holiday parties can be great for office morale and a good way to get to know your employees and coworkers on a more personal level. Approach them with the right mixture of fun and caution, and a good time can be had by all.

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