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Heed tips to avoid company-sponsored holiday party liability

December 15, 2017
An employer can be held liable for actions that occur during or as the result of your company-sponsored social event — particularly if alcohol is being served. It’s a concept known as social host liability, and it is recognized by many courts across the country. 
While each state’s laws differ, there are some general guidelines to follow to make sure the company’s holiday festivities are fun and safe, and don’t land the employer in court.
• Make sure employees understand attendance at the company-sponsored event is purely voluntary. Eliminate any perception that work is being conducted.
• Plan the menu carefully so as there aren’t a lot of salty foods. When people are thirsty, they naturally drink more.
• Don’t provide a self-serve bar for guests. Either serve the guests their drinks or hire a professional bartender who can recognize when someone has had enough.
• Opt for a cash bar instead of an open bar. Or limit the number of free drinks for each guest.
• Consider hosting the holiday party in the afternoon instead of the evening. People tend to drink less during the day.
• Arrange for designated drivers and/or provide alternative transportation. Don’t let anyone be talked into driving home when they have had a few too many.
• Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available for guests.
• Close the bar about an hour prior to the end of the party. As an alternative, provide a coffee and desert bar.
• Employers should not consume alcohol during the event. It is important for them to keep a clear head so prudent judgments can be made.
Business owners should remember that, even though it’s a party, it still is business-related. It should be managed with the same propriety used to manage the business every day. It is possible to host a fun holiday event, without exposing a business to potential costly liability.