The holiday party season is here and the Small Business Legal Center at the National Federation of Independent Business is advising its members to keep celebrations safe by watching out for two problem areas—intoxication and harassment.
Alcohol: An increasing number of states require employers to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries by intoxicated employees leaving holiday parties. To avoid many of these liability issues, an employer should lessen the role that alcohol will play during the festivities. Consider the following when planning your office party:
• Make sure the party is voluntary.
• Use professional bartenders, and instruct them not to serve anyone who appears intoxicated.
• Distribute drink tickets to limit the number of free drinks.
• Serve heavy foods throughout the night so people aren’t drinking on an empty stomach.
• Ask trusted managers and supervisors to be on the look-out for people who have had too much to drink and unable to drive or need assistance getting home.
• Make sure employees have alternate transportation home, such as a designated driver or a taxi.
• Remind employees about any company policies on conduct and substance abuse before the party.
Socializing, alcohol, and mistletoe combine to create an environment that can lead to sexual harassment claims. Just because it’s a holiday party doesn’t mean you can’t be liable for what happens as an employer. Harassment suits can result from voluntary events held outside the office and outside normal work hours.
• Remind employees about your harassment policies before the party.
• If your business does not have an anti-harassment policy, get one! Have it reviewed by an attorney.
• Don’t hang mistletoe.
• Inform all employees that they have a duty to report sexual harassment that they experience or witness.
• Finally, make sure that all employees understand that a holiday party is still a work-related activity, and that rules for appropriate work behavior still apply.