Who doesn’t love a good holiday party? Hosting company holiday parties is a great way for employers to bring people together and celebrate their accomplishments at the end of the year. They are an effective tool for promoting employee engagement and connection among staff members. Employees have an opportunity to get to know one another, relax, and have fun. It sounds great, but employers who host holiday parties can be held liable for alcohol-related accidents, wage claims, and harassment claims.
Careful planning can help minimize your risk, so before you send your invitations, ask yourself these questions:
- Where will the party be held? While it may be more convenient to hold a party at the office, it might be a nice change of scenery and more relaxing for employees if you hold your event off-site. (It will also be much more difficult for an employee to sneak away to their desk to finish up some last-minute work if the party isn’t in the office.) If you decide to host your event off-site, find a location that isn’t too out of the way for your employees. If you have multiple worksites and it isn’t logistically possible to hold one event where everyone can get together, consider allowing each location to hold its own holiday party. Also, if you hold your event at an establishment with a liquor license, and you have the establishment handle serving alcohol, you are less likely to be held responsible for alcohol-related problems.
- Who will be invited? It is important to invite all of your employees to your company holiday party, so that no one feels left out or that they are being discriminated against. Decide also whether you will be inviting employees only or employees and their spouses/significant others or entire families. If you allow employees to bring their families, will minor children be attending? Consider whether you’ll invite clients, customers, vendors, etc. Knowing well in advance who and how many people you’ll be inviting will help you select an appropriate venue. Note: If you decide to include people outside of your company, it may cause your employees to behave more professionally; however, it might also make it more difficult for your employees to relax and enjoy themselves.
- Will attendance be mandatory? Time spent at the holiday party becomes compensable for non-exempt employees when you require them to attend (and/or when you have them conduct business during the event). It is best to make attendance voluntary. Remember, voluntary means voluntary, so be sure not to imply that attendance is expected, that it will help employees to advance their careers, or that employees who don’t attend will be punished in some way.
- Will there be alcohol available at your party? The easiest way to avoid liability for any alcohol related issues (like drunk driving accidents or harassment claims) is not to serve it at all. However, if you do want to have alcohol at your party, consider limiting the amount that can be consumed. A simple way to do this is to utilize (and limit) drink tickets and don’t allow anyone to bring their own alcohol. You can also prohibit employees who do not wish to use their drink tickets from giving them away to others. It’s also a good idea not to allow minors at your party if you will have alcohol at your event. Providing transportation via designated drivers, a bus, or a cab service for employees who have been drinking is another way you can minimize risk. Another great practice is to stop serving alcoholic drinks a few hours before the end of the party, but continue serving food.
It isn’t possible to exercise complete control over your employees, so plan ahead to minimize your risk so the event will be memorable for all the right reasons. Remind your employees to behave responsibly and professionally at your party, and have fun!
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