This time of the year is often filled with office parties and corporate holiday events as many companies celebrate Christmas and New Year’s with employees and clients. The fun of holiday festivities, especially with the consumption of alcohol, also brings an increased risk of sexual harassment and alcohol-related accidents. For some companies, this could mean additional liability exposure if inappropriate or reckless behavior leads to injury. By following some of the helpful suggestions below, companies can limit their liability should a holiday event go wrong.
Serving alcohol at a corporate holiday party places a company at an increased risk for liability. Companies may be held civilly or criminally liable for injuries resulting from an individual’s intoxication if the company provided the alcohol. Liquor liability laws vary state to state but hold businesses liable for serving alcohol to intoxicated or underage persons. Many businesses provide transportation home from holiday parties or arrange for hotel stays to avoid the possibility of an alcohol-related driving accident.
If alcohol is to be served at a company party, businesses can encourage employees to drink responsibly by using drink voucher systems limiting the number of drinks everyone may be served or shortening the time that alcohol drinks will be offered. Offering food and non-alcoholic drink alternatives may also help limit alcohol consumption at a holiday party. Cash bars can decrease the amount of alcohol consumed as employees drink less when they must purchase their own drinks. Hiring a professional bartender to handle the serving of drinks can also help a company monitor the alcohol consumption of the party attendees.
Companies should review their sexual harassment policies with all employees prior to holiday party season. All sexual harassment policies should include guidance with respect to employer sponsored social events. Employees should be made aware these policies apply not only at work but at company functions occurring off the work premises. Some companies chose to make holiday parties more family-friendly with the inclusion of spouses and children to discourage inappropriate and harassing behavior. Businesses can proactively ban certain customs that could potentially lead to allegations of a hostile work environment, such as hanging mistletoe in the office and the exchange of adult-themed risque gifts.
State wage and hour laws will determine whether a company needs to pay its employees for attendance at a holiday party. Mandatory attendance at a holiday party would require a company to pay for the employee’s time. If attendance at the party is not mandatory but strongly encouraged, courts may find the company implicitly required the employee’s attendance. By making attendance entirely voluntary, companies may be able to avoid paying additional compensation to its employees.
Despite a company’s best efforts to reduce all injury or harassment risks, incidents inevitably will occur during holiday parties. As a precaution, all businesses should have the proper liability insurance to provide financial protection, including commercial general liability and employment practices’ liability policies. Some businesses may need to purchase special event coverage depending on the nature of the holiday celebration.
With offices conveniently located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, our team at MacMain Leinhauser proudly represents businesses throughout Philadelphia and Chester County. Call us today for more information about protecting your business from liability at 484-318-7106 or contact us online.