Deck the Halls, Not the Courts: A Guide to Worry Free Holiday Parties

by Lisa Brennan

The end of the year is a busy one for most businesses. They are tackling their end of year to- do lists and getting ready for the year ahead. For many companies, the end of the year also means that it is time for the annual holiday company party.

As an employer, the holiday party can be a great way to celebrate your successes from the year. It can also be a good chance for employees to connect and build personal connections. Unfortunately, office parties can also be the source of potential liability to you as the employer. Here are some things to take into consideration to maximize the fun and minimize the liability:

  1. Inclusion. Make sure everyone is included. Invitations should be extended to all employees! Consider including significant others as well.
  2. Attendance. Do not make attendance mandatory. A party should be an invitation to celebrate, not a subpoena. Furthermore, making attendance mandatory increases your liability if an injury were to occur or someone were to get hurt. Additionally, if the party is mandatory, you will be subject to wage and hour laws for compensating participants.
  3. Alcohol. Thomas Jefferson once said that, “Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.” The key word here is “moderation.” If alcohol is served at an event, too much can lead to undesirable consequences including drunk driving or sexual harassment. Limiting the amount of alcohol served is a good idea.
  4. Insurance. Make sure that the site of the office party, whether a bar, restaurant, or other event venue is properly insured especially if alcohol will be served. Most businesses are able to easily provide you a certificate of insurance upon request. If you host the event someone else–for example on the office premises themselves—determine if any additional insurance coverage would be necessary.
  5. All the Usual Rules Apply. While the holiday party can be a time to let loose and have fun, the usual office and HR rules still apply. Employees should know that just because they are off the clock doesn’t mean that they are off the hook for their behavior. It can be helpful to remind them of this before the event occurs.

Taking a few precautions ahead of time can help ensure a safe and uneventful party to celebrate your team and your accomplishments.  Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!