Holiday Parties and Your Legal Risk

When planning and hosting your corporate holiday parties, it is important to ensure that your guests remain safe and comfortable and that you mitigate any legal risks associated with the party, especially if you plan to serve liquor. Many states have implemented social host liability laws that can lead to the host of the party being held liable for injuries that occur to any guest who becomes intoxicated and any injuries that a guest causes, either at the party or afterward.

Under 21 Employees

If your corporate holiday gathering includes employees who are under 21, take steps to ensure they are not accidentally served alcohol. This can be accomplished by checking the ID cards or driver’s licenses of all your employees and using colored stamps or bracelets to indicate whether the attendee is under or over 21. Serving alcohol to anyone under 21 years of age is always illegal.

Host Your Holiday Party Off-Site

If you plan to serve alcohol at your annual holiday party, consider renting a venue that has a liquor license and offers professional bartenders that can mix and serve drinks and monitor guests. Venues are required to have certain types of liability insurance, usually including liquor liability insurance. Liquor liability insurance is a special type of business liability insurance that covers guests or patrons who become intoxicated and either cause injury to themselves or to a third party. Professional bartenders are often trained to spot guests who are intoxicated so that further alcohol consumption can be refused.

Provide Alternate Transportation to and from Your Corporate Holiday Event

To minimize the risks of your holiday party attendees getting into car accidents due to being overly exhausted or intoxicated, consider providing alternate forms of transportation. You could offer shuttle service from a central location to the holiday event, or call cabs for guests who are too impaired to drive. You may even consider designating two or three guests as designated drivers or asking your employees to bring a designated driver with them to the holiday event.

Remind Employees of Your Corporate Harassment Policies

In addition to mitigating any factors associated with providing alcohol at your holiday party, you will want to remind your employees about your corporate harassment and code of conduct policies. As your guests relax, unwind and socialize, they may be more prone to saying or doing things that they wouldn’t normally do if they were at work. Prior to the party, remind your guests that harassment in any form, including sexual, bullying and otherwise, will not be tolerated at the event. To help remind your employees, you can copy the harassment and code of conduct policies from your employee handbook and distribute them to your employees, or you can create a special form outlining the policies and ask attendees to sign and return a consent form.

Further Reducing Your Legal Risk

Before hosting your holiday party, you may want to consider speaking with your lawyers or another legal team in order to make sure you are adequately protecting yourself and that your holiday party does not violate any laws or put you at an increased risk for a lawsuit.

Diana Tough

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