What Employers Need to Know About Office Holiday Parties

Employment Law

What Employers Need to Know About Office Holiday Parties

Dec 1, 2022 | Employment Law

The holiday season is here, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year! With the winter holidays just around the corner, are you one of the many businesses busily preparing for a holiday office party? Office parties are a wonderful way to generate good will with your employees and strengthen your business culture. 

However, along with all the fun and festivities come a host of potential legal concerns that employers should also take into consideration. From alcohol consumption to discrimination and harassment to health and safety, it is essential that employers be aware of and plan for the issues that can arise. Here are just a few things to keep in mind to make your office party safe and enjoyable for all:

Alcohol Consumption: Will alcohol be freely available at your holiday office party? If alcohol is served, employers should take steps to ensure that it is done in a responsible manner. This can include limiting alcohol options to beer and wine, ensuring the availability of low-alcohol or alternative non-alcoholic beverages, strictly limiting access to those aged twenty-one or over, and even distributing a limited number of drink tickets to your partygoers. Employers should take care not to pressure or overly encourage employees to consume alcohol. Finally, employers concerned about the effects of alcohol consumption on after-party safety can consider offering after-party shuttle or ride-sharing options.

Discrimination and Harassment: It is essential that any activities at the event are non-discriminatory. Have you extended party invites to all your employees? Have you scheduled your office party on a date that is not in conflict with a religious holiday? Consider a name for your office party that does not signify a particular religion – say “Holiday Party” instead of a “Christmas Party”? And have you created an atmosphere for the holiday office party in which all employees will feel comfortable and safe at the event, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any other protected class? Sexual harassment during holiday office parties poses a significant risk for employers, which may be compounded by consumption of alcohol during the party by your employees. Employees often let their guards down at holiday parties, especially those with alcohol, so it’s important to emphasize that office policies still apply.

Health and Safety: Employers should ensure to the extent possible that the holiday office party venue is free from any hazards which could lead to injury, including slips and trips, such as overcrowding, inadequate lighting, and slippery floors, sidewalks, and parking areas. If alcohol is served, it may make sense to have an appropriate number of security personnel present to ensure the safety of all your partygoers.

Injury Liability: Holiday office parties can lead to personal injuries, a heightened possibility when copious alcohol is involved. Have you considered potential liability if an employee is injured during your holiday event? It is important to have appropriate and comprehensive insurance coverage in place which covers any such injuries. If the party is held off-site, do you know if your company insurance policy covers you? Have you looked into the insurance coverage of the off-site holiday office party venue? Now is the time to consider whether you are adequately covered for your holiday event.

Office holiday parties can be a delightful way to bring employees together and celebrate the holidays. However, employers must take into consideration a host of legal issues to make sure it stays safe, such as discrimination, health and safety regulations, injury liability, harassment, and alcohol consumption.

By following these guidelines, employers can ensure that their office holiday party is a safe and enjoyable experience for all.

If you have questions or need any assistance concerning guidance around holding an office holiday party, please contact Doug Taylor at (703) 525-4000 or rdougtaylor@beankinney.com.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.

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