Work holiday parties are a time for employees to get together, socialize and celebrate a year well done. They can be a time where coworkers get to know each other better, which can lead to stronger bonds within the office.

They’re also events that pose serious risks and dangers to employees, depending on whether or not alcohol is served. In a time where more than 10 percent of small to medium businesses can expect to experience an employee lawsuit, protecting both employees and the business is an important consideration for holiday parties.

Here’s information on how businesses can stay protected and keep employees safe when they’re planning a holiday party.

Workplace Holiday Parties- Employer Responsibilities and Worker Rights What Are Work Holiday Party Risks?

There are several considerations businesses should take into account for holiday parties. These include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Alcohol
  • Worker injuries

One way to state clear guidelines about actions your business will take for certain workplace holiday party behaviors is to outline expectations in an employee handbook. The employee handbook guidelines should include sexual harassment policies, what employees should know about drinking at workplace functions, and what types of disciplinary actions will occur for violating guidelines. You may want to refresh these guidelines to include a holiday party-specific code of conduct so employees are clear about expectations.

Work Holiday Parties: On-Site or Off-Site?

Actions that occur at an on-site holiday party may have different consequences than those that happen at an off-site holiday party. Be aware of these details.

On-Site Holiday Parties

If you’re having a holiday party at work, and it is mandatory that employees attend, then they must be paid for their attendance at the holiday party.

You should also be aware that any injuries that occur at a holiday party will likely result in a worker’s compensation claim. Parties may result in employees horsing around, or food and drink spills that result in slip and fall accidents. To avoid personal injury at your workplace, give a verbal warning to employees before the party that they should be careful.

If you’re having a work party at work, and you are giving employees alcohol, you also open up your business to liability. An employee could drive home intoxicated, get into an accident and try to sue you because you gave them too much alcohol. Either consider having a dry holiday party at work, or bringing in a licensed vendor to monitor alcohol use.

Also, be aware that if you have a party off-site, but attendance is mandatory, like a party that is held off-site during work hours where employees are expected to come and talk to clients, that is a work event that opens up your business to liability. You’ll need to pay employees for coming to the party, even if it’s off-site, if it is mandatory.

Workplace Holiday Parties- Employer Responsibilities and Worker Rights Off-Site Holiday Parties

Off-site holiday parties can provide businesses with more protection, but they also pose some risks. To avoid workers’ compensation claims for injuries that occur at off-site holiday parties, make it clear that party attendance is non-mandatory, and state that there is no work-related business to conduct at the party.

Avoid sexual harassment by reminding employees of suitable conduct. Discourage gifts that are adult-themed or inappropriate, and do not place questionable decorations at the party, like mistletoe.

If you are going to serve alcohol at an off-site work holiday party, use these tips to avoid over-consumption and employee injuries.

  • Avoid serving drinks that are mixed with alcohol, like punch, since that can make it more difficult for employees to gauge how much they’re drinking. Serving beer and wine helps employees better understand how much alcohol they’re imbibing.
  • You can restrict how much alcohol an employee has by giving a set amount of drink tickets, limiting when the bar is open, or closing the bar an hour before the event ends.
  • Employ trained bartenders at a work holiday party, and tell them to avoid serving alcohol to minors and to an employee who is visibly drunk.
  • Hold the event at a location that has an established liquor license.
  • Offer a cash bar, which might decrease how much employees drink.
  • Provide a late-night snack buffet, which lets employees fuel up on food and drinks that aren’t alcohol before going home.
  • Have the event near public transportation like the Valley Metro Rail, or provide ride-sharing coupon codes.
  • Don’t have a dance floor at your event, so you avoid injuries from slipping while dancing.

You should also take a look at your company insurance policy before any work party and determine how it relates to alcohol at company events. You may want to secure extra insurance for protection.

You could also have employees review and sign a waiver that informs employees they they are liable for their behavior at a work party. Include information about how employee behavior will be addressed, including termination. You can send the waiver to employees to review before they RSVP for the event.

When an Employee Might Sue Because of a Work Holiday Party

There are several instances when an employee might want to pursue a personal injury or premises liability lawsuit after a work holiday party. If a holiday venue was negligent in maintaining their property, and an employee suffers a severe injury, they may choose to sue the location. Or if a food vendor is negligent in food preparation, and employees experience food poisoning, that may also be cause for a lawsuit.

The best way to protect your business is to draft up exceptionally clear guidelines and have employees sign a release before the party occurs. At the party, being mindful of alcohol serving is key. The American International Group has more tips and guidelines regarding alcohol and employees here.