Limiting Employer Liability at Office Parties

Holiday parties tend to bring the morale of the office up, but in spite of the best intentions to reward employees and develop camaraderie between departments and peers, employers may be held liable for party plans or activities that go south. For many parties, potential problems arise through the consumption of alcohol and the perception that workplace behavior expectations don’t apply in a relaxed atmosphere. This can open the door to sexual harassment, bullying, and accidents or injuries. To limit the liability of the employer, several steps should be taken before hosting a holiday party.

Set Clear Expectations

Just like your employees were vetted through employer background check services when they were brought on board, remind them of the company’s expectations concerning criminal behaviors. More specifically abuse and sexual violence. Establish expectations for appropriate dress and actions, maintain that while things are more casual, professionalism and adherence to company policies on issues of attire and treatment of other individuals is still required. Make sure the leadership team sets the example for the group, and have them take responsibility for monitoring the employees within their departments on the night of the event.

Consider the Influence of Alcohol

Many companies still serve alcohol at their holiday parties, and while there is nothing wrong with the option, it does open up liabilities with behaviors or language that are negatively impacted by intoxication and it presents an increased risk of employees driving while impaired. Hiring a catering service with the appropriate insurance and licensing to serve alcohol may be the first line of defense in watching for alcohol-related issues. It may also be better to limit selections to just beer and wine, as well as limiting the time period in which the alcohol will be available.

Consider the Event Location

Where you hold the party, as well as the day of the week and the time of day, will also influence employee behaviors. Party venues that are downtown feel more festive but it could also lead to more out of control behaviors. Hosting a luncheon or late afternoon party on a weekday may also limit reckless behaviors, especially if the next day requires a normal employee schedule. Weekend parties are more likely to get out of hand.

When planning your office party, there is a lot to worry about. Employee behaviors, though not your fault, may still create liability situations that you have to address. Putting thought into where you are having the party, who is able to come, and what will be served are just a few of the ways to reduce the potential of injury or harm to attendees or others.

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