Before an employer’s holiday festivities begin, HR professionals must consider the potential liability.
An employer can be held responsible for not only what happens at the company party, but also what happens on the way home. Here are the top five things an HR professional should keep in mind when planning this year’s holiday parties:
1. Forget the “open bar.” Most states have “dram shop” laws that make establishments responsible for the harm caused by alcohol-consuming customers. Do not provide unlimited alcohol to employees. Having too much to drink leads to bad decisions and poor judgment. Have a cash bar or a ticket system that limits the number of drinks each person can consume. This happened in the case of Hicks v. Korean Air Lines, where the event was simply a company-sponsored dinner.
2. Make it optional. Beyond the alcohol-related liability, an employer can be liable for payment of wages to non-exempt employees because of wage-and-hour laws.
3. Provide transportation. Require inebriated employees to take a free ride home when they have had too much to drink. This will keep employees from getting behind the wheel of a car if they’ve been drinking. Designate certain employees to stay sober to keep an eye on things.
4. Office rules apply. Just because it’s a holiday party does not mean that office rules are null and void. When publicizing the event, remind employees that while it is great to relax and have a good time, workplace rules governing behavior are still in force. Stress that all of your employee conduct policies are in effect, even though the party may take place outside the workplace and beyond normal work hours.
5. Check your policy. Double-check your general liability coverage and other insurance to ensure that office-related parties are a covered liability. Take the added step by obtaining written confirmation from your carrier.
A 2010 Adecco survey found that:
- 40% of people at work-sponsored holiday events saw or suffered a major indiscretion
- 14% knew someone who was fired for bad behavior at a company holiday party
- 20% of respondents reported drinking too much at a work holiday party
Employees’ actions even at a holiday party are sometimes a dangerous cocktail. Use these tips to avoid a holiday party hangover. Remember, the laws governing the workplace do not have a “holiday party” exception.
What measures do you typically undertake for your holiday parties? How have you handled incidents in the past? Please comment below.