You’ve decided to hold the annual holiday party. It’s a great way to boost employee moral but be careful, the last thing you want to happen at the party is the quiet employee, never a problem before- dancing on the table with a lampshade on their head. Despite the cheery intent of the holiday party serious consequences can result, for which you, the employer, may be held responsible. For example, if one of your employees drinks too much at such an event, then gets in a car and injures himself or another person, are you liable for the injury? Probably, under most states host liability laws, and you would certainly be looking at a workers’ compensation claim. What about the employee who ties one on and then decides to declare their affections to another employee- that sounds like a sexual harassment lawsuit in the making. So how can employers limit liability and still provide a festive event?
Limit or don’t serve alcohol at all. If no behavior altering substances are available to your employees, or if you limit their access to it, chances are employees will be calmer and more in control of their actions. In addition to averting injuries, limiting alcohol consumption could prevent other types of actionable activities, such as property damage and sexual harassment incidents.
If you are going to serve alcohol, check your insurance policy. A key step in your party planning should be reviewing your business insurance policy. If you’re going to be serving alcohol, the Independent Insurance Agents of America, Inc. (IIAA), based in Alexandria, Virginia, suggests checking your comprehensive general liability policy to be certain that it covers third-party liquor liability.
Don’t think a cash bar solves your liability problem. While having a cash bar instead of an open bar may limit drink consumption, be careful. Having your employees and guests pay for the alcohol they consume on your property does not automatically limit your liability if an alcohol related accident should occur. According to the IIAA, if you’re charging for alcohol, you’ll need a liquor license and other liability protections.
Plan an off-premises party so if you decide to serve alcohol at your party, don’t hold the party in your office. Have the party off premises and make sure the servers have a liquor license. That way you transfer the obligation to the provider of the liquor. Plan a non-traditional get-together such as a group outing to a basketball or football game, and the focus will not be on drinking, but on the g event. Other alternative party ideas from the U.S. Department of Labor include an amusement park outing, or a volunteer activity, such as a 10K run or bake sale, with proceeds going to a local charity. Hold a family-friendly party and take the focus off the typical “sit and drink” party by inviting your employees’ spouses and children to the gathering. Plan activities for the children; perhaps hire a musician or storyteller. A family friendly party also re-inforces the company committment to work/life balance.
Be clear with your employees before the festivities begin.
Make sure that your employees know your policy on substance abuse and that this policy covers any work situation, including an office party, suggests the U.S. Department of Labor. Post the policy in your employee handbook and on office bulletin boards, and send it out by email as a reminder before the party. HotlinkHR makes it easy to post policies and handbooks online and collect employee signatures.
Provide transportation and keep your employees from getting behind the wheel of a car if they’ve been drinking by providing alternative transportation, both to and from the party.
So will your holiday event be alcohol free or at a non traditional venue this year? Share your thoughts in the comments section.