- On December 5, 2016
Is your company hosting a holiday Party? Be prepared! There are numerous issues and liabilities that your company, management and employees can be subject to, including harassment and negligence claims. Here is a list of Best Practices to help you avoid liability during this season of merriment!
1. Make sure that your policies, including your anti-harassment policies, cover employer-sponsored social events and parties. Appropriate workplace behavior is NOT limited to the four walls of the organization during traditional working hours and traditional working duties. Additionally, gifts that are exchanged, even with anonymous Secret Santa games, should also be appropriate for the workplace and should not be offensive to the recipient or the bystander. Also, do not include customs or traditions during your festivities that could offend others or foster inappropriate behaviors, such as cultural traditions including the hanging of mistletoe.
2. Consider whether guests will and can attend the function. Allowing guests may encourage employees to be “on their best behavior.” On the other hand, organizations can be liable for the behavior of the guests OR the employee’s behavior towards the guest. A few inappropriate remarks, jokes or gestures can cause a host of issues for the hosting organization.
3. Consider whether or not alcohol will be served at the function. Alcohol service can lead to claims of negligent behavior, “loose” and unprofessional behavior, underage drinking, DWI, and personal injury claims for those who are potentially injured. Consider the applicable laws involving: social hosts, alcohol consumption, libel / slander, DRAM shop laws, invitee liability, negligence and criminal behavior. Consider hosting your festivities off site where professional bartenders are accustomed to handling individuals that have been over served. Also have attendees be on alert for those who are overserved – this could be a life saver! Alcohol service should be limited regardless (i.e., not a 4-hour open bar….).
4. Consider providing transportation. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish. The organization can encourage attendees to Uber or cab home – even on the company’s dime.
5. Make sure that you communicate that company festivities are STRICTLY VOLUNTARY and are social in nature. Do not discuss business, do not educate or have work-related speeches. Do not have employees “work” during the party at all – even checking in people or assigning seating. It is best to have the festivities after work hours. This will help avoid violations of the state and federal wage and hour laws.
6. Have a clear social media policy in place. Be mindful of “post party postings” or “live postings.” Make sure that if someone posts pictures of attendees on their personal social media domain, that they get the permission of the subjects in the picture. Additionally, be mindful that all posts must comply with the organization’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.
7. Finally, keep in mind attendees with disabilities. Make sure easy access is provided at the venue if needed. Additionally, keep in mind the menu that is being served and potential allergies as those with food allergies are protected under the ADA.
Author: Nicole Sorokolit Croddick is an experienced employment law attorney who has experience resolving disputes involving various forms of harassment and discrimination.