Holiday parties allow employers to show their appreciation to their staff with an evening of fun, relaxation and merry-making.
And while most holiday parties go off without a hitch, if you don’t lay down rules and consider measures to avoid incurring liability, the event
could become much more costly than anticipated.
Holiday parties are a great morale booster for your staff, as long as you and your employees all use common sense in planning and during
the event itself.
This is especially true if you plan to serve alcohol at the party. Consider also that the Department of Labor and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate that the annual cost to employers for automobile accidents where a driver was impaired is $9 billion, including “wage-risk premiums.”
So, in the spirit of the holiday season, we provide you with these tips to have a safe and enjoyable holiday party for all in attendance:
• First, you need to survey the location where you will be having
the party and plan for safe decorations, and a safe environment that limits
the risk of anybody tripping or getting sick.
• When decorating the party area, be mindful of where you place
decorations and make sure to maintain clear pathways to doors and
• Have a first-aid kit available.
• Secure the area of any trip and fall hazards.
• Remind staff that normal rules and standards of the workplace
still apply. You may consider holding a pre-party staff meeting to inform
them of this and pay particular attention to highlighting your anti-harassment
• Arrange to keep hot foods hot.
• Arrange to keep cold foods cold.
• Keep fresh and cooked meats separate.
• Plan for people who have food allergies. You can do this in
advance by circulating a memo to asking staff to note any food allergies
anyone may have, and then avoid serving foods that could make them
sick or noting which food contains the particular offending ingredient.
• It is strongly advised not to provide, make available or allow
alcohol into the workplace. More than likely it will result in you breaking
your own workplace rules against bringing such items to work.
• It is further strongly advised not to provide, make available or
allow alcohol at parties held outside of the workplace. One less thing for
you to worry about.
If you do decide to have a party with alcohol, you should:
• Review your insurance policies for alcohol-related exclusions. If
there are any, consider a dry soiree.
• Instead of holding the party on a Friday or Saturday night, you
may want to hold it during a work night, when people are less apt to dip
their beaks into the champagne and other adult beverages.
• Remind employees to drink responsibly and plan ahead for
safe transportation. One way to do this is to limit the amount of drinks
employees can imbibe by giving out a set amount of drink tickets and offering them a number of non-alcoholic beverages. You may also consider
providing designated drivers, cab vouchers, or hotel rooms for those unfi t
to drive home.
• Avoid serving lots of salty, greasy or sweet foods, which tend to
make people thirsty. Serve foods rich in starch and protein, which stay in
the stomach longer and slow the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
• At the bar, hire experienced bartenders and make sure they
don’t over-pour drinks or serve guests who are either under age or seem
• Make sure you have one or more managers at the party who are
not drinking and are keeping an eye out for anybody drinking too much.
• Close the bar an hour or more before the party ends.
If you are considering a dry party, which is the best way to reduce
your liability, you may want to consider the following tips:
• Hold a pre-party staff meeting and reiterate your company’s
workplace substance abuse policy, and that the policy addresses the
use of alcoholic beverages in any work-related situation and office social
• Use every communication vehicle to make sure your employees
know the policy, including posting it on the break room bulletin boards,
sending reminders via the office e-mail and a note in paycheck envelopes.
• Reinvent the party by doing something different, like an outing
of some type. One employer a few years back rented out a vintage movie
theater in its town and held a private screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life”
for the staff, with a dinner in the lobby area.
And, finally, it’s a good idea to discuss the party, potential liabilities and
other matters with your insurance broker to make sure proper coverage
is intact and in place.