Benefits & Compensation News

10 tips to prevent holiday parties from turning into lawsuits

You waited 12 months, and now it’s back: your company holiday party. It’s a perk that can be a boon for morale, but it can also be a legal landmine if not handled with care.

As horror stories mount around them, more companies are deciding to avoid company parties altogether.

But at the same time, some still see them for the effective morale and camaraderie boosters they can be — provided the necessary steps are taken to safeguard their organizations from potential employee/legal backlash.

Whether you’re gearing up for this year’s celebration or looking ahead to 2014, here are 10 ways to hold a company party while avoiding the threat of an employee lawsuit:

1. Don’t serve alcohol

Drunk co-workerNine out of 10 holiday party-related horror stories begin with, “He/she had too much to drink.” If you’re in any way worried you may not be able to trust your employees with alcohol, it’s probably best to skip the cocktails.

Sure, you may be taking away the biggest attraction, but losing a few RSVPs is better than having to contact an attorney the next day.

Hosting a “dry” event is the No. 1 way to keep your company safe.

But if you choose to serve cocktails, you can still ensure your celebration is legally sound — it just takes a little more planning.

2. Charge for alcohol

If you’re going to serve alcohol, don’t have an open bar. Make it a cash bar, or — at the very least — issue a limited number of drink tickets and put workers names on them (so they can’t give them away to others).

A few other best practices when mixing business with cocktails:

  • Always serve plenty of food when alcohol is present
  • Keep plenty of non-alcoholic drink options on hand
  • Close the bar early, preferably at least one hour prior to the end of the event (so attendees have time to sober up)
  • Instruct the wait staff not to refill alcoholic beverages; always have staffers walk to the bar, and
  • Hire a professional bartender (this helps ensure intoxicated individuals are cut off).

3. Hold it on a work night

A party held on a Saturday night is exponentially more risky than one held in the middle of the week when people have to be in the office the next morning.

Not only are people less inclined to drink on a work night, they’re less likely to attend after-parties.

4. Don’t sanction after-parties

At a barAfter-parties are likely to spring up at local watering holes or workers’ homes after company-sponsored events. You may not know when or where they’re happening, just assume they will. And in doing so, you’ll want to discourage managers and supervisors from attending.

If they attend anyway, tell them to never pick up the check on the company credit card. You also want to make it clear to employees the after-party is not a company event and their attendance is not expected.

5. Tell managers they’re on duty

In addition to informing them that they shouldn’t attend after-parties, tell managers and supervisors they’ll be considered “on duty” during your holiday celebration.

That doesn’t mean they can’t have fun, but let them know you’d like them to keep an eye on their subordinates to ensure nobody gets out of hand. 

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