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Employment Q&A: Holiday Fun????

12/14/2016 | Category: Employment Law-Q & A

- What can I do to ensure that my holiday party doesn’t cost me more than I bargained for?

 - While there are benefits to holiday parties, such as team building, camaraderie, etc…there is also a significant risk of liability.  Such potential liability can negate the advantages of the event.  Below are some common issues that may arise and best practices.

  • Prevent Harassment
  • Re-release a copy of the company policy on harassment and have all employees sign.  Include a paragraph on appropriate and inappropriate language and actions at social events, such as holiday parties.  Take this time to educate employees regarding company harassment policy and the law.  If inappropriate conduct is reported, investigate such conduct and discipline accordingly.   
  • Avoid actions that may encourage inappropriate conduct.  Do not hold the party at a bar, do not hang mistletoe, play games that may involve body contact, etc.
  • Allow family and guests to attend.  Employees are more likely to behave appropriately if family is present.  
  • Avoid Alcohol Related Issues
  • Do not serve alcohol, or if alcohol is served, have a third party serve it.  
  • Do not serve alcohol to those underage.  Check ID’s and have wrist bands or some other method of actually determining if guests are of age.
  • Limit consumption-  Schedule the party during the day; provide food and non-alcoholic beverages; have a cash bar; if free drinks are provided then have a system to limit the amount each person may consume, such as a ticket system; stop serving alcohol at a certain time.  
  • Provide an Uber or some other form of transportation.
  • Provide lodging if the venue is far from employee’s homes.
  • Provide notice of expectations for responsible drinking.  In the invitation and other correspondence related to the holiday party, the employer should state that the use of designated drivers is encouraged and all attendees should drink and behave responsibly, should they choose to consume alcohol. The employer should post similar language at the holiday party, near where drinks are served.
  • Workers Compensation Liability
  • Have employees sign a recreational waiver.
  • Discrimination Claims
  • Make the event non-denominational.  Call the party the “Holiday Party,” and not a Christmas Party.  Do not display religious symbols.
  • Wage and Hour
  • An employer may owe non-exempt employees for attending the party depending on the circumstances.
  • Hold the event offsite and outside regular work hours.
  • Provide employees paid time off during the workday to attend.
  • Make the event voluntary.  
  • Avoid business related awards and speeches at the event.  

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