It may be 70-plus degrees here in Los Angeles, but holiday office party season is coming up fast. The office parties we see on “Mad Men,” where everyone is inebriated and engaging in unwise hook-ups right there in the offices are mostly gone. However, where there is alcohol and after-hours socializing, appropriate behavior and good sense still often fall by the wayside.
Employers and employees alike need to understand that what happens at these gatherings, whether they are held in the office or at an off-site venue, can have legal consequences. Liability can arise for both the company and the individuals involved if something unfortunate happens. The most thorny legal issues around holiday celebrations involve religious discrimination, hourly employee pay, sexual harassment and workers’ compensation claims.
The latter two of these tend to involve alcohol consumption. One of the most crucial decisions a company makes when planning a party is whether to serve alcohol and how much. If the party is off-site, it’s generally expected, but it’s best to limit the number of free drinks allowed, keep the selections to wine and beer, and consider closing down drink service early. Let employees know that you will provide a cab or shuttle home if they need it or even a hotel room – without judgment or retaliation later on. Even though alcohol can lead to more problems than just about anything else at a holiday party, a survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only about half of companies planned to limit employee drinking during their year-end social events.
It is essential for employers to set some behavior and drinking guidelines when planning their holiday celebrations and to make sure that all employees are aware of them. This can lessen employer liability for things like drunk driving or sexual harassment. More importantly, though, it will help keep your employees safer.
Employment attorneys are not just there to assist when something bad happens. They can help you prevent it. Employers should not hesitate to consult with their legal advisors before their holiday parties to ensure that they are doing everything possible to keep the festivities enjoyable and to make sure that their employees make it to the new year in one piece.
Workforce.com, “Office Party Planning: Celebrate Good Times With Round of Good Party Parameters” Max Mihelich, Dec. 03, 2013