Holiday Party Liability

How Employers Can Minimize Holiday Party Liability

Tis’ the season to be merry! The holiday party is a great opportunity for employers to say, “thank you for a job well done, we appreciate all the hard work”.  However, this holiday season employers, more than ever, are aware of the potential liability issues surrounding parties where employees are encouraged to mingle and kickback in celebration. Why? Holiday parties usually include alcoholic beverages and situations where employees are uninhibited by the constraints of the typical office environment.

Therefore, it is important to plan appropriately, set the right tone and cover all scenarios to keep everyone safe and protect the organization from lawsuits this holiday season.

Plan Accordingly

Make sure to reiterate the organizational stance of expected behavior at the holiday party as soon as the invite is sent. Make sure to stress a zero tolerance for behavior violating company policies (i.e. sexual harassment, drug abuse). Ensure organizational policies are clearly communicated and understood.

Minimize Alcohol Related Liability

Be aware that most states, Ohio included, have social host liability laws. This means that a “social host” (employer) is liable when an invited guest (employee) consumes too much alcohol on company property. So, to minimize the risk associated with the consumption of alcohol, employers should:

  • Consider holding the event off site
  • Eliminate the open bar (provide a set number of drink tickets or require employees to purchase alcoholic beverages)
  • Hire a professional bartender (they have experience identifying excessive consumption)
  • Provide alternative transportation in the event employees become intoxicated
  • Always offer alternative, non-alcoholic beverages
  • Make sure food is readily available throughout the party

Minimize Sexual Harassment Scenarios

Beginning with the allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October of this year (2017), the issue of sexual harassment is now in the forefront of America’s minds. This issue can no longer be ignored or compartmentalized. As a result, it is important to establish rules to encourage festive, but appropriate behavior when celebrating this season by:

  • Publicizing policies regarding what is/is not considered sexual harassment before the party
  • Sending a reminder that there is zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior during the party
  • Reminding employees what is/is not considered appropriate or suggestive party attire
  • Inviting spouses and/or significant others to the event

A final note, make sure the holiday decorations do not include mistletoe! What is considered a harmless tradition (kissing under the mistletoe) is NOT appropriate behavior for workplace parties. Once the planning is done, make sure managers and executives set the right tone during the event.

Lead by Example

Employers may not be aware, but subordinates do look to them for behavioral cues. If the “boss” is behaving inappropriately, the likelihood of a subordinate following suit is exponentially higher. Sometime, just seeing a manager “cutting loose” is all it takes for someone to act completely outside their comfort zone.

So, this party season, make sure organizational leaders are aware that they set the tone. Make sure there is management buy-in to ensure that appropriate behavior will be demonstrated. If everyone knows what is expected and what is/ is not considered appropriate behavior, then its more likely that everyone can enjoy some holiday cheer with fellow workers this year.

Need Help Establishing Clear, Concise HR Policies?

SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc. can help protect your organization from liability. Mitigate your risk with sound HR policies and procedures to improve workplace culture, help prevent disagreements and to make certain everyone is treated equally. Call us at 330-255-1101 or contact us to speak with one of our HR specialists today.

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