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8 Legal Considerations for Office Holiday Parties

From making a party mandatory to responding to employee injuries, here are eight answers to the question, "What are some legal aspects that should be considered when throwing office holiday parties?"

  • Liability for Drunk Drivers

  • Mandatory Attendance for Events

  • Sexual Harassment

  • Gift Appropriateness

  • Invitations Getting “Lost in the Mail”

  • Public Disturbances

  • Underage Drinking

  • Injuries During the Party

Liability for Drunk Drivers

The most obvious is the company’s liability for drunk drivers. If you serve alcohol at any work function, inside or outside the office, be careful.

If an over-served employee kills someone with their car on the drive home, the company will be sued and it will likely have civil liability for wrongful death. Short of having dry employee events, which is always an option, here are a few tips to protect your company:

  • a written policy informing employees that intoxication at work events will lead to discipline up to and including termination.

  • impose drink maximums at events.

  • offer bottled water to all employees at least an hour before the event ends.

  • subtly check each employee when departing to ensure they are not visibly intoxicated.

  • provide bottled water for the road (or call an Uber if necessary).

  • and purchase an insurance policy covering a civil loss arising from a wrongful death (motor vehicle) claim (and an umbrella policy with excess coverage if applicable).

Robert Reder, Attorney, Blythe Grace PLLC

Mandatory Attendance for Events

While you can encourage your employees to attend your holiday party, you should not require it. After all, some of your employees may need to travel to see family for their holiday vacations.

Furthermore, this could result in claims regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act. Though holiday parties can bring employees closer together, they do not need to be mandatory.

Maegan Griffin, Founder, CEO, Nurse Practitioner, Skin Pharm

Sexual Harassment

One legal aspect that should be considered when throwing office holiday parties is the risk of sexual harassment. The holiday season is a popular time for parties, but it is also a time when many people are on their guard about potential sexual misconduct. It is important to ensure that your office holiday party is in a setting where employees feel comfortable or safe. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines for avoiding sexual harassment at work parties. For instance, the EEOC recommends employers inform employees in advance about the party’s location, time, theme, and purpose. This way, employees can decide for themselves if they want to attend.

The EEOC also advises that employers have a neutral, third party present at all times to ensure that no unwanted sexual behavior occurs. Finally, the EEOC recommends employers provide transportation to and from the party, to reduce the risk of driving under the influence.

Matthew Ramirez, CEO, Rephrasely

Gift Appropriateness

If office holiday parties include Secret Santa gift exchanges, managers should encourage their employees to bring gifts that are appropriate. Even if a gift is meant as a joke, anything unprofessional or obscene might result in harassment claims.

Miles Beckett, Co-Founder & CEO, Flossy

Invitations Getting “Lost in the Mail”

No one enjoys having an invitation get lost in the mail. When you’re throwing an office holiday party, a lack of an invitation can quickly escalate to a serious matter, including a lawsuit for discrimination.

First and foremost, make sure you invite all employees to your one-of-a-kind office holiday festivity. This is vital because all employees contribute to the success and development of the company.

Overlooking employees may cause discontent, tension, and increase a lack of trust and appreciation. The other side of the coin is perceived prejudice—making some believe there’s a discriminatory basis.

Make sure the language of the invitation itself is also inclusive. Pro tip: show clearly in the invitation that this holiday celebration is for the business. This will help your case if there is an audit. Ensuring you invite all employees helps erase the potential of you being liable in an audit.

Nicole Ostrowska, Career Expert, Zety

Public Disturbances

Office holiday parties are social gatherings and are always bound to get out of hand, especially when public intoxication is on the cards. Intoxicated people tend to have poor judgment and are bound to misbehave and cause disturbances.

Whenever an office holiday party is held, it is always prudent to remind employees that any form of disorder or misbehaving is legally punishable by law if members of the public feel violated by the same actions.

A change of venue might solve the problem of reducing public disturbance. Instead of holding the party in the office premise, it can be moved to an exclusive place where the staff members will not be in the wrong if they get intoxicated and decide to make merry.

Yongming Song, CEO, Live Poll for Slides

Underage Drinking

When throwing an office holiday party, it is important to make sure that all guests consuming alcohol are of legal drinking age. Some junior employees, such as interns, may be tempted to drink if alcohol is available, so it is important to have measures in place to prevent underage drinking.

This could include having wristbands or ID scanners to check for IDs or hiring security to monitor the party. A pro tip is to also be mindful of plus ones that are at the party, who you may not know well or know the age of.

Grace He, People and Culture Director,

Injuries During the Party

Make sure that in case anyone gets hurt at a holiday party, workers' compensation insurance covers the injury.

There are different laws for workers’ compensation in each state. Still, the key question to trigger coverage is usually the same—was the injury related to work or occurred at the workplace?

The legal issue that appears here is whether a holiday party counts as a work event or not. To ensure coverage under workers’ compensation, it may be wise to throw a party in the office. Also, having the party during business hours may also help.

Agata Szczepanek, Community Manager, LiveCareer

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