10 Tips For Planning an Office Holiday To Minimize Legal Liability
Updated: Mar 2
The holidays are a time for celebration and joy, but for many employers the holiday party can turn into an abyss of legal liability. Here are ten tips to maximize fun and minimize the chance of getting into legal trouble.
If you’re planning to serve alcohol, think about ways to prevent party-goers from over indulging. Some options are: serving only beer and wine (no hard alcohol); having a bartender so employees don't self-serve; using drink tickets to limit the number of drinks; ending the party at a specified time; cutting off alcohol before the party ends; serving food so people aren't drinking on an empty stomach; having plenty of non-alcoholic drink options available.
Also, if you are serving alcohol, plan for safe transportation after the holiday party is over. This can be as simple as calling a cab for any employees who might have had too much to drink, or coordinating rideshares with other coworkers so that everyone gets home safely. DO NOT LET ANYONE DRINK AND DRIVE.
Prior to the party, remind employees that even though this is a party, they are still obligated to adhere to the company's code of conduct and anti-harassment policies, and that any bad behavior will be treated as if it occured in the workplace.
Make sure company employees know who/where they can report inappropriate behavior. Have a plan in place for disciplining employees that step out of line.
Make sure that employees understand that they don’t have to attend a company holiday party if they don’t want to, whether or not it involves alcohol or is held on company property or off-site locations like restaurants or bars.
Have an emergency plan in place. If someone does get into trouble at your holiday event, be prepared to handle the situation. This may mean arranging for counseling or other support services if someone is struggling with depression or another mental health issue. It may also mean coordinating with the local police and emergency responders, if someone is injured or a crime has been committed.
Get feedback from your employees about the holiday party plan. Avoid any last-minute surprises by clearly communicating the event details to your staff and asking for their input on everything from food and entertainment to dress codes and RSVPs.
Make sure that a senior executive is designated to stay at the party until the very end. Make sure to tell managers that they should lead by example and act responsibly.
Consult with your insurance broker in advance, whether the party is on-site or off-site, to ensure proper coverages are in place.
Before the party, set a meeting for the week after the party for HR and company executives to debrief, think about what worked and didn't work, and what could have been done better. Document the conversation for next year.
Holiday parties are meant to be fun and a demonstration of appreciation to your employees. But without proper planning, they can also be a source of legal liability. Thinking through potential issues in advance will put your company in a better position to prevent liability and ensure everyone has a great time.