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Risk

Don’t let holiday fetes create future regrets

In 2022, we are back to in-person parties! However, we can’t forget that along with the party favors, we may be sharing legal troubles.  

Good party planning by employers means more than just food and festivities (and hand sanitizer!). Employers should guard against a host of potential legal pitfalls. Most notably, employers should take steps to: 

  • Protect employees from sexual harassment. Using appropriate policies and setting the tone of the party in advance can help root out unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate activities. 
  • Plan and monitor alcohol consumption appropriately. Advance planning about where the party should be held, who should be on the guest list, and who should tend the bar can promote responsible drinking and minimize employer liability under state dram shop laws. 
  • Limit exposure to workers’ compensation liability. Ensure employees are not performing work tasks and create a safe environment to keep workers’ compensation risks to a minimum. In addition, use licensed vendors for food and other aspects of the party. 
  • Minimize wage and hour risks. Employers should be sure that employees’ attendance and participation is voluntary, the party is held outside working hours, employees are not required to take on particular tasks, and employees are not performing compensable work activities. 

Employers can protect their interests and keep the holidays merry by reviewing Practical Law’s Holiday Party Liability Prevention Checklist.  The following are select tips from the Checklist to keep alcohol-related litigation risks at bay. See the full resource for more helpful guidance. 

Reduce the Risk of Alcohol-Related Accidents 

  • Hold the event at a restaurant or other off-site location. Employers may want to hold holiday events at establishments with a liquor license and where alcohol is served by professional bartenders who know how to respond to guests who are consuming alcohol to excess. 
  • Hire a professional bartender or caterer for on-site events. If the event is held on the employer’s premises, the employer should consider hiring a professional bartender or caterer to serve any alcoholic beverages. The employer may want to confirm that the caterer carries liability insurance and instruct bartenders or waitstaff not to serve drinks to anyone who is visibly intoxicated. Employees should not be permitted to stand in as bartenders or otherwise serve drinks to coworkers. 
  • Limit the amount of alcohol that is served. Employers may try to control alcohol consumption by: 
  1. providing a limited number of drink tickets or limiting the time during which alcohol is served; 
  2. providing entertainment to shift the focus of the event away from alcohol to something else; and 
  3. making a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and food available as an alternative to alcoholic beverages. 
  • Provide alternative transportation. Employers should consider providing transportation for employees leaving employer-sponsored events at which alcohol is served. 
  • Encourage employees to look out for intoxicated coworkers. Employers should: 
  1. encourage employees to notify management if another employee appears overly intoxicated; and 
  2. consider designating certain employees as “spotters” to look out for colleagues who may have had too much to drink. Be sure not to designate employees who may be nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to avoid claims that these employees were required to work off the clock and, therefore, are entitled to additional compensation (see Prevent Wage and Hour Claims by Nonexempt Employees). 
  • Determine whether the employer is insured. Employers may purchase insurance covering dram shop or liquor law liability in states that recognize those causes of action. Employers should review their existing coverage before purchasing a new policy because a comprehensive general liability policy may provide sufficient coverage. 

Although in-person gatherings are now possible, employers can’t forget that in-person liabilities are often inadvertently on the guest list. Thinking back to pre-pandemic times, we must remember that parties can mean problems. However, with careful planning and Practical Law insights, employers can keep those pesky problems to a minimum.  

Review Practical Law’s Holiday Party Liability Prevention Checklist and our thousands of other resources to keep employment law challenges from spoiling the festivities.

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