If you plan to hold a holiday office party, you need to take steps to limit your liability. Some of the potential exposures include alcohol related injuries, post event D.U.I. related car accidents, and harassment -related claims stemming from inappropriate behavior. See this scary roundup of litigations of Christmas past.
To limit your exposure, ensure that party attendance is truly optional. It’s not really a party if someone feels obliged to attend. In fact, mandatory fun is getting pretty close to being “work.” If employees feel obliged to attend, you heighten your exposure to workers compensation claims should any injuries occur.
Establish a relaxed but appropriate atmosphere. Consider having the event off-hours at an outside venue to limit your liability. Inviting spouses/significant others may cut down on inappropriate behaviors.
Offer (insist on?) free cab rides home for people who have been drinking. Sounds expensive? Not nearly as expensive as the costs and the lifetime of guilt that would ensue if an employee is injured or killed on the way home, or harms others.
For more tips from the pros, Employer Handbook offers 72 ways to prevent an office party from creating an HR hangover, a great roundup of posts from employment law and human resource bloggers.
Other options for holiday-related celebrations:
Consider an alcohol-free family event. Invite employees to bring spouses and kids to the worksite. Serve light refreshments and have small gifts and favors for the kids. It’s a good way for managers and supervisors to meet employees’ family members.
Consider a neighborhood block party. Open your doors to neighboring businesses or residents for cake, cookies, alcohol-free eggnog, and a tour of your premises.
Consider a charitable event. Invite your employees to be hosts for a community based charity event or fundraiser. Stage a caroling event for local nursing homes or shelters. Have a toy or food fund drive, or sponsor mailings to military folks in active deployment.
Susan M. Heathfield of About.com Human Resources offers a great list of alternatives to the holiday party – from ugly holiday sweater days to office decorating parties – terrific ideas that are cost effective and less risky than a booze-soaked evening event. She also suggests that a simple and good seasonal alternative is a focus on employee recognition.


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