Holiday Parties: Proceed With Caution

Because of the liability exposure inherent in holiday parties, many employers have decided to forego hosting such events.  For the employers who will host holiday events, the planning may have already started.  In either scenario, the time is right for employers to review their policies and practices to ensure protection from certain risks presented by employer-sponsored holiday parties.

The following are recommendations to assist in careful planning and hosting of holiday parties:

  • Employer’s Handbook – Review policies for employer‑sponsored social functions.  These policies should include harassment policies specifically addressing employer‑sponsored social events such as holiday parties.  Further, the employer should provide certain examples of conduct that is unacceptable from the employer’s standpoint.
  • Service of Alcohol – For events that are on-site at the employer’s offices, hire a professional bartender.  Most professional bartenders, or caterers, carry liability insurance.  Further, bartenders are instructed on the appropriate time to stop serving drinks to certain partygoers.  The employer should not allow employees to fill in as bartenders.

  • Attendance – Announce that attendance at party is not mandatory.  This will prevent wage and hour claims by nonexempt employees.  If the party will take place after usual business hours, employees should not be asked to work for any benefit of the party, such as serving food, after hours.
  • Social Host and Dram Shop Liability – State laws vary.  Employers should familiarize themselves with social host or dram shop liability.  Under these laws, a provider of alcoholic beverages to an individual who is visibly intoxicated may be liable for any injuries caused by those intoxicated individuals.

This list is not exhaustive, but covers some of the areas that employers should examine prior to the start of the holiday season.

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