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Playing it safe when hosting a holiday party

Many employers host holiday parties to show appreciation for their employees and to provide employees a chance to socialize with their colleagues. While such holiday gatherings bring cheer, they also can expose employers to unexpected liability. This doesn’t mean employers need to be the Grinch and cancel the party, but they should be aware of potential risks and plan parties accordingly.

The list below provides a few examples of issues employers should consider when planning holiday parties (or other employee social or recreational activities). It should serve as a starting point for further discussion and review by management teams. Employers with specific liability and coverage questions should contact their organization’s insurance agent, risk manager or private attorney.

  • Spiking the eggnog. The consumption of alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment. As a result, it can bring about problems, such as excessive drinking, unwanted sexual advances, harassment, offensive language and jokes, impaired driving and even physical fights. If alcohol is served, consider the following ideas to help control the flow of alcohol at the event:
    • Hire a professional bartender with training on serving guests and application of related state laws.
    • Require that the bartender check identification before serving alcoholic beverages to attendees and report anyone he or she feels has had too much to drink to the employer’s designee.
    • Serve plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
    • Keep the bar open for a limited time and consider serving only non-alcoholic beverages for the last hour or several hours of the event.
    • Issue each employee a limited number of drink tickets or make employees pay for their own drinks.
    • Provide a no-cost transportation service for employees.
  • Reindeer games and worker’s compensation claims. Injuries resulting from activities at holiday parties may be compensable under state worker’s compensation laws if such activities are “incidental to employment.” When an employee is injured during a work-related social event, a number of factors are evaluated to determine eligibility for worker’s compensation. These factors include, but are not limited to, whether the employer conducted business activities at the party, whether the employee performed activities at the party that may be considered work and whether the employee’s attendance at the party was mandated, expected or optional.
  • Policy, what policy? Remind employees of current employment policies. Let them know that harassing, discriminatory, inappropriate and unprofessional conduct will not be tolerated at the holiday party. Minimize potential risks by saying “no” to mistletoe and selecting a venue and entertainment that doesn’t create a sexually charged or discriminatory atmosphere.
  • #HoHoHo—the social media after-party that may never end. In the age of smartphones, employers and employees must be cognizant of the fact that pictures and video of holiday parties can be posted online and live on forever. Employers should remind employees that they should request permission before they start taking pictures/video of people at holiday parties, and they should never post anything on social media without receiving permission to do so from everyone in the picture/video.


Back to November 29, 2018 Medigram