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Tips for Keeping Holiday Office Parties Safe and Fun

Date: November 23, 2009

NFIB Small Business Legal Center

As the holiday season approaches, many small business owners will host holiday festivities. The goal is to keep the celebrations safe and fun. You can achieve both goals at your office party by watching out for the following two problems: 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 lookout for people who have had too much to drink and are 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.

Discrimination/harassment
Socializing, alcohol and mistletoe can 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 held liable for what happens. 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.

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