Legal Considerations for Your Holiday Parties

Legal Considerations for Your Holiday Parties

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching and other year-end holidays not far behind, many employers may be thinking about their upcoming Company Holiday Party.  While holiday festivities can be fun and improve employee morale, they can also bring legal risks.  Here are some things you should consider when planning your company event:

  • Alcohol – To serve or not to serve, that is the question. This is a decision only the company can make.   This is, by far, the biggest risk factor.  If the company plans to serve alcohol at its event, it is recommended that employers consider:
    1. Limiting alcohol consumption – This can be accomplished by giving out drink tickets, having a cash bar or limiting the number of hours the bar is open. Additionally, servers should be told to refuse to serve drinks to anyone who appears intoxicated.
    2. Keeping the party social – Do not conduct any business at this event. This could include making a business speech, giving out awards, etc.
    3. Making the party voluntary – Attendance should not be required.
    4. Holding the event off-site – Use a facility which has a liquor license and has professional bartenders to dispense the drinks. Consider a location that is accessible to all.
    5. Planning for alternative transportation – Have someone monitor employees as they are leaving so that no one who is impaired is driving themselves home. Consider having taxi vouchers available for those who need them.
  • Harassment – Even though a company-sponsored party may take place off-site and/or off-hours, employers may still find themselves facing a sexual, religious, or other harassment claim. If an employer elects to serve alcohol at a company-sponsored event, employees who are under the influence of alcohol may have impaired judgment which can result in inappropriate actions, behaviors or comments in violation of the company’s Harassment Policy.  The company still needs to address this inappropriate conduct as if it had taken place on-site and during business hours.  To reduce the risk of a harassment claim, employers may wish to consider:
    1. Using non-religious decorations – Some possibilities include snowflakes, trees, wreaths, lights, candy canes, etc.
    2. Not hanging mistletoe in the workplace or at the party – This is a sexual harassment case waiting to happen.
    3. Having a dress code for the party- Consider having a business dress code for the Holiday Party to ensure everyone dresses appropriately.
    4. Reminding everyone of the company’s Harassment Policy – Consider sending the Harassment Policy out annually prior to the Company’s Holiday Party and have employees sign off that they have received a copy of the policy and will agree to abide by it.
    5. Training Managers – Managers are role models for employees. They should set a positive and professional example.  They should help to ensure those who have had too much to drink do not behave inappropriately or try to drive themselves home.

We at Kistler Tiffany Benefits wish you and yours a very happy, safe, and joyous holiday season!

By Maria Peterson, HR Manager, SPHR, SHRM-SCP,