Celebration Season: Mitigating Risk at Your Company Parties

It's that time of year for company parties and gatherings. Yet, for employers, the fun comes with a great amount of responsibility and worry. Here are some tips to avoid the pitfalls of party season, which is a common, but preventable source of risk and liability.

Limit the alcohol served.

Limiting alcohol consumption by employees can limit your company's exposure. Predictably, alcohol is often the genesis of company party mishaps. With results ranging from driving under the influence to inappropriate behavior and harassment, employers should be vigilant whenever alcohol is served at an event. While the most effective method for reducing exposure is to serve no alcohol, there is a path to compromise.

Use a third-party vendor to provide bar and food service. Give trained professionals the discretion to limit employees' alcohol consumption when they deem necessary. Also limit the choices to beer and wine, excluding hard alcohol from the menu. Serving plenty of food and water will ensure your employees don't over-imbibe. Announcing last call at a firm time, and sticking to it, will ensure your employees are not heavily intoxicated as they leave for home. Further, transportation is worth planning. Make the event within walking distance or arrange some form of transportation.

Communicate company policies about harassment.

Harassment and inappropriate behavior at company parties can be a problem; as employees are in a less professional setting where alcohol is served. To avoid issues, make the company's policies toward sexual harassment crystal clear ahead of time. Distribute an up-to-date handbook detailing the company's policies and take measures to ensure the most pertinent information is clearly conveyed, through means such as email.

Take measures to prevent workers' comp and other claims.

Whether hosted onsite or at an external venue, be wary of the potential liability associated with an injury that happens at an event. Drinks can spill and people can slip, for instance. Moderating alcohol consumption will also reduce the risk of falls or other injurious behavior.

Discrimination is also a risk during the holidays, as several religions celebrate them over the season. Under both federal and state law, discrimination on the basis of religion is illegal. So consider keeping the event neutral if it falls around religious holidays, to avoid perceived favoritism towards one group. Also avoid decorations that incorporate religious symbolism or reference specific religious holidays.

Consider wage and hour issues.

Non-exempt employees may be owed compensation for attending an event. To avoid potential wage issues, the event should take place outside of the office and working hours and attendance should be voluntary.

When it comes to conducting company social events, lead by example. Company leaders carry the weight of setting the tone. Advancing the company's espoused ideals begins with a leader's actions, and leaders must remember they are being observed by many eyes as they participate in a party. This proactive approach along with these tips will help you mitigate risk while you celebrate.




Table of Contents