Nānpāra Follow this guide to keep all spirits bright

There are plenty of great reasons to host a holiday party for your company. It builds camaraderie, recognizes your employees, celebrates a year, and energizes your team for the New Year.

It’s also a headache.

Beyond the party planning basics, such as food and location, there are several issues that, if not realized beforehand, can leave you facing damaging liability and tremendous legal fees.

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Did you know that many sexual harassment lawsuits are born as a result of behavior at the office party? The blurring of boundaries and alcohol consumption can very often lead to inappropriate advances, offensive comments, gifts, cards, and even sexual assault.

As the host of the party, according to the American Bar Association, it’s imperative that you keep an eye on both male and female employees. Sexual harassment goes both ways.

If customers or clients are invited to celebrate, it’s your responsibility to monitor them, as well. Not only are they at risk of possible harassment, but they may be aggressive toward one of your employees. In either scenario, your company can be held liable.

Holiday spirits

Since the beginning of time, the office party has had a reputation for unbridled alcohol consumption. The truth is that what’s often humorous in movies and on television can result in lawsuits for you and your company.

To begin, many states and jurisdictions not only have strict DUI/DWI laws, they also have social host laws. As the host of the party/owner of the company, you have a tremendous responsibility to not only keep your employees safe, but also anyone who may be on the road after the party ends.

If you have assigned some staff members to work at the party, be very clear with them about your expectations and keep an eye on them. Should your designated coordinators become intoxicated and injure themselves or someone else, you can be held liable because they were required to be there.

There’s also the issue of underage drinking. As the host, you have a duty to know the ages of your employees and any guests who will be attending. The very last thing you want at your holiday party is to have a minor pass out and need medical attention—or for anyone to drive home while intoxicated.

In planning your party, it’s essential for you to give serious consideration to the role alcohol will play at the event and how you can head off any issues:

  • Consider using a system of tickets or some other means to limit the amount of drinks each guest can have.
  • Before the party, ask for some employees to be designated drivers. You can also offer to cover any cab fare or provide an alternative to get your employees home safely.
  • Limit the length of time of your function. A party that lasts long often invites lingering and, therefore, greater opportunity to continue drinking.
  • Encourage bartenders to not over pour.
  • Provide non-alcoholic alternatives or decide to have an alcohol-free party.

All the pretty colors

We live and work in a diverse world. Period.

In addition to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there are now numerous anti-discrimination laws at the Federal, State, and local levels. While these define all that is illegal and the consequences for breaking the law, they really do not address the best practice of respecting the diversity of your workforce.

As the boss, you should have a pretty good handle of who’s who on your staff. To that end, it’s important to remember not everyone celebrates Christmas—so, call your gathering a “Holiday Party,” a “Winter Solstice Party,” or a “Post-Holiday Celebration”. Avoid making attendance mandatory. It’s the simplest way of acknowledging that everyone is invited to participate if they choose to.

Rather than having to wade through the complexities of doing your best to not offend anyone on your staff, this is an opportunity to include them in putting the party together.

Forget ladies dancing and lords a-leaping

Think carefully about incorporating icebreakers into your holiday event. Dancing competitions, especially when mixed with alcohol, often result in all sorts of injuries that can implicate your workman’s comp coverage, FMLA, and/or ADA policies.

If you must have an activity, singing is safer.

‘Twas the night before the party

It’s never too early to plan your holiday party. In fact, many of the issues discussed here can be addressed through the daily culture you have established in your company.

Review your firm’s anti-discrimination, sexual harassment, and dress code policies on a regular basis with employees so they will know what the company’s expectations are before the party. As a safety net, reiterate these policies and your expectations in an email or verbally prior to the party.

The holiday party should not be the first time these policies are discussed and/or enforced.

Party within bounds

It’s also important to realize you don’t have to break the bank to have a good time. In our complex world, simple is often better—and the chance to party without pressure can be a huge relief for a holiday season that’s full of over-the-top expectations.

The bottom line is for the host to understand that anything and everything can go wrong; but that shouldn’t deter him or her from doing the right thing for your employees.  Scrooge had to learn the hard way that there are positives to a holiday party.

That’s why now is an excellent time to review your coverage with your insurance provider, to ensure that you are properly covered for any of these issues, to talk to us.

Avante Insurance is committed to making sure you, your company, and your employees have a Safe and Happy Holiday Season. We look forward to working with you throughout the coming New Year.