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Prevent Holiday Celebration Litigation

by Martin Salcedo, Esq. - The Human Equation on 12/4/2013
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The annual holiday party is an excellent opportunity for employees to strengthen bonds by mixing and mingling and for senior managers to connect with employees they might not otherwise interact with throughout the year. Holiday parties often generate feelings of family and unity in the workplace. They may also lead to litigation.

Since holiday parties are generally viewed work events, most employees know not to cross the line. When alcohol is involved, however, lines may get blurry and employers may get sued. Off-color comments, racy jokes or inappropriate flirty behavior may lead to claims of unlawful discrimination or harassment. Alcohol-related car accidents caused by those attending the party may lead to claims of negligence.

Since alcohol is often the cause of holiday party mishaps, steps should be taken to limit the risks. For example, employers can

  • Appoint monitors to watch alcohol service and consumption.
  • Limit alcohol service with “drink coupons” (i.e., two drinks per person).
  • Close the bar once dinner begins.
  • Use professional bartenders.
  • Offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages options.
  • Avoid serving greasy, salty or sweet foods that tend to make people thirsty. Instead, serve foods rich in starch and protein that stay in the stomach longer and slow the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
  • Collect car keys from all who drink. Toward the close of the party, assign designated drivers or call taxis for anyone who is too impaired to drive. If the party is in a hotel, reserve a block of rooms for the inebriated to spend the night.
  • Send a memo to all employees prior to the party stating clearly that a) employees who arrive intoxicated will not be allowed in; b) employees are not permitted to bring their own alcohol; c) excessive drinking will not be tolerated; and d) intoxication and inappropriate behavior at the party will be grounds for discipline.
  • Clarify that the holiday party is a social event and that attendance is entirely voluntary.

Employers may also want to consider involving employees in the planning. They may come up with an alcohol-free alternative (such as a fundraiser) to celebrate the holiday season.

Though nothing is foolproof, taking reasonable measures can reduce the chances of turning this year’s holiday celebration in to next year’s litigation. If you would like to learn more about controlling employment-related liabilities, check out The Human Equation’s library of online courses or contact us.

The Human Equation prepares all risk management and insurance content with the professional guidance ofSetnor Byer Insurance and Risk.

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