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Hosting a Holiday Party? What Employers Need to Know to Avoid Liability

With the holidays just around the corner, many employers plan to host a holiday party for their employees. Holiday parties are a great way to show appreciation for employees, enhance teamwork and allow employees to form a different type of bond aside from what they do on a day-to-day basis in the 9-to-5 world. Whereas these events are intended to enhance workplace spirits, employers should consider the potential liabilities that could accompany hosting a holiday party. Often, many situations that could result in liability for your company can easily be prevented with some additional foresight.


Here are some steps you can take to protect both yourself and your employees:

  • Limit the hours. Start the event right after work so employees don’t have the chance to pre-party before they arrive. (The party should be limited to about three hours to avoid letting any guest become so intoxicated.)

  • Limit the alcohol. Although this might sound obvious, many people do not know what limiting alcohol looks like at a party. While completely nixing alcohol at your party will minimize a lot of risk, employers do not have to go that far to reduce liability. One idea is to hire professional bartenders or work with your vendor to set parameters for serving alcohol. It might be a good idea to instruct bartenders not to serve shots, serve light pours, or have a designated cut-off time. Employers may choose to host a cash bar where employees purchase alcohol. A cash bar can reduce consumption and can reduce the risk of a claim that the employer directly provided alcohol to employees. Using personalized tickets to exchange for drinks might also help limit intake.

  • Provide rides. Employers should think about ways to get their employees home safely. Arrange for designated drivers or work out an arrangement with a local hotel with a shuttle service or a car service to offer discounted rates to all employees. Even if you don’t plan to or want to provide a taxi service, don’t think twice about calling and paying for one if an intoxicated employee plans to drive himself home. From a cost-benefit point of view, the cab fare may be the best money your company has ever spent.

  • Communicate expectations ahead of time. It is a good idea to send an office wide memo a few days before the party to remind employees that while you look forward to a fun party, it is still a work setting in which they are expected to exhibit decorum and professionalism. This memo should also include the company’s policies on harassment as well as the dress code.

  • Do more than serve drinks. Planned activities can keep guests from making constant trips to the bar and can keep a party from spinning out of control. An activity, such as a white elephant gift exchange, can let employees interact in a way they normally wouldn’t interact with each other.

  • Excluding the mistletoe, decorations are okay. Holiday decorations can create a festive atmosphere at your party but forget about hanging mistletoe. This could lead to all sorts of harassment issues and potential complaints.

  • Consider an alternative. Some employers may altogether want to reduce risks associated with evening events by throwing a casual party during the day or by doing something more low-key such as volunteering together for a charity or holding a family-friendly affair at a bowling alley. These kinds of activities still allow employees to get into the holiday spirit without having to endure the higher-risk party atmosphere.

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