Tina Harkness, Membership Development
Holiday parties can be a great way to celebrate the season and reward employees for their hard work all year. Holiday parties can also pose unintended liability risks, especially when alcohol is involved. These risks can be minimized by smart planning in advance and monitoring of the event.
Make it inclusive: Remember that employees might not celebrate on the same days or in the same way. Plan year-end social events to be inclusive of different religions, cultures, and viewpoints.
Make it voluntary: This minimizes the potential for the event being seen as working time for wage and hour, workers’ compensation, or other legal purposes. Holding the event off-site, outside of normal work hours, and without customers or clients in attendance are also recommended for the same reason.
Clarify expectations ahead of time: Employees should understand that the company wants everyone to have fun and to drink responsibly and behave appropriately. Explain the alternative accommodation or transportation options to employees and who to contact if needed. A sample communication can be found in our FYI Workers’ Compensation:Managing Liability for Recreational, Athletic, and Social Activities.
Control alcohol consumption: If you decide to serve alcohol, limiting and monitoring consumption is essential to reducing potential liability. One of the best ways to manage this is to hire professional bartenders with the ability to stop serving individuals who have had too much. Distributing drink tickets or setting drink limits is another option. Food should also be served to slow the absorption of alcohol. Alcohol service should stop at least an hour before the end of the event. Self-service situations should be avoided. Alcohol must not be served to obviously intoxicated individuals or minors.
Provide alternative accommodations or transportation: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst by having alternative accommodations or transportation available for employees who drink too much. This could be a pre-reserved block of room at the event location or complimentary taxi or shuttle services.
Monitor the event: Party monitors should “work” the party. These folks are on the lookout for inappropriate behavior including obviously intoxicated employees or guests. They should intervene early if a situation appears to be developing and know what alternatives to offer. Check your coverage: Some insurance policies may cover off-premises events, or additional coverage may be available at a reasonable cost.
With advance planning and monitoring, your year-end event can the fun celebration you intend it to be.