Minimize Holiday Party Liability

December 19, 2018
Ann Marie Gorczyca, D.M.D., M.P.H., M.S.

The holiday season is a time of celebration and thanks. You can thank your employees for all their hard work this past year with a fun and safe party, but just remember to watch out for potential liability issues waiting to happen.

Enjoy your holiday parties responsibly this season. You can still be held accountable if things go wrong.

Holiday parties can be magical, as long as there are no liabilities for either employees or employers. Here are four things you can do to avoid liabilities at your year-end holiday party.

1. Watch what is said

The same anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies in your workplace apply to the holiday party. Be sure that everyone in attendance maintains their professional conduct.

2. Limit alcohol consumption

Alcohol is probably the number one culprit of bad behavior, which can generate liability. If alcohol will be served, limit consumption to one glass of beer or wine only with food. Take at least one hour for coffee and dessert before the party's end to allow participants a time to collect themselves.

3. Be clear about the end of the party

"After party" festivities are not encouraged nor are they sponsored by the employer. To avoid liability, consider printing an invitation to your party that states when the party starts and when the party officially ends. When the party is done, call the official end. Clearly state "Thanks for coming to the party which is now over! We are done until next year. You are on your own."

4. Take transportation seriously

You may want to provide transportation to and from the office to your holiday party. This could be either a group limousine, Uber driver, or shuttle service.

If your party is an informal impromptu gathering, consider letting employees pay "Dutch" for what they have planned to remove employer liability, as you won’t pay for them. Holiday parties, year-end parties, and after-work gatherings are voluntary and unpaid. Should you pay your team to attend the holiday party, as an employer, you are now liable for all that goes on there including if someone were to be hurt, leading to a Workman's Comp claim.

Let your year-end holiday party generate fond memories of happy times, great company, delicious food, and a fun ride. May your holiday party be safe, smart, and legal.

Happy Holidays!

Dr. Ann Marie Gorczyca is author of the book "Beyond the Morning Huddle: HR Management for a Successful Dental Practice." She is an orthodontist in private practice in Antioch, California.

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