While office holiday parties are a good way for a company’s owners and executives to show their appreciation to employees, clients, and vendors alike, these types of gatherings can get a company into plenty of legal trouble too. Why so? In a word…“alcohol”.
Many an office party has had an unhappy ending when and over served employee or guest made un unwelcomed sexual advance to a coworker or other guest; or possibly worse, was involved in a serious car accident on the way home. Either way, the company hosting the party can be held liable.
So what should a company do—just stop having office parties? No, of course not, however when planning an office party it is crucial to set well communicated parameters for the purpose and acceptable behavior for attendees to the party. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind as the business owner or manager responsible for giving the party:
1. You are liable! A good idea is to check your business insurance and see if you are covered in the vent that a mishap occurs in conjunction with the party. A commercial general liability policy may cover liquor liability, but that doesn’t cover sexual harassment or a physical assault by a party attendee. Call your insurance agent to see what your policy covers.
2. Establish expectations for your employees and guests. Office Parties are usually given to show the company’s appreciation for its employees, clients, vendors, or other supporters. However, the key point is that it is still a “work related event”. Everyone needs to understand this point and be advised that normal office protocol and professional behavior is still expected (even if alcohol is being served). Send out an email to the staff and post the same message on the company bulletin board that reminds everyone what is expected of them.
3. Pick a theme that doesn’t encourage trouble. Having a party at a local pub with an open bar sends a direct message to everyone attending…”Let’s Party!” Many companies have enjoyable events that do not serve alcohol; of course that’s an option that you may consider. Having the party during the day as a luncheon or open house is another consideration; keep in mind that these events can be alcohol free or simply encourage moderate alcohol consumption (as opposed to an afterhours or night time event). Maybe, you can just issue “drink tickets” to each guest (no more than 3 is advised), but watch out, unused tickets can easily end-up with someone getting over served.
4. Have a plan for the party’s end. Arrange for a car service to be ready at the party’s conclusion. Keep the number for a local cab service ready and easily accessible for hosts to make quick arrangements for a ride. Make sure that the attendees know when the party is supposed to end in advance and then stick to that time. Keep a watchful eye out for anyone that may have had too much to drink and then take the necessary steps to get them home, safely.