Don’t Get Sued Over Your Firm’s Holiday Party

Holiday parties have made a comeback despite, or maybe because of, more people working remotely. Many managers want to bring their teams together under one roof as it’s become apparent that connecting face-to-face is vital to a vibrant and cohesive work atmosphere.

But if you are planning on throwing a company holiday party, there are a number of considerations for you to keep everyone safe and avoid issues that can result in injuries and/or lawsuits against your organization.


Alcohol can bring trouble

The biggest risks you face arise if you throw a party that serves alcohol. A 2018 survey found that one in three office workers had done something at an office holiday party that they regret, and two in five said they’d seen events at parties evolve into office drama, altercations or scandals.

The best advice is not to serve alcohol at your event. That will greatly reduce the chances of problems like the following:

Bad behavior and conflict — Whenever alcohol is present, personal disputes between coworkers can rise to the surface and things can get ugly. If hostilities erupt, it immediately puts the employer in danger of being sued by one of the parties and others may be drawn into the fracas.

Also, hook-ups between staff are a common occurrence and in this era of smartphones with cameras, those events can be on record forever. While this could lead to real romance, often it makes for an uncomfortable work environment for not only the two workers involved, but for their coworkers as well.

Alcohol-fueled aggressive come-ons can also spill over into outright sexual harassment — another legal peril.

Holiday advice: If it’s an office event, the rules of conduct in the office extend to the party and you should not tolerate those who exceed the boundaries of proper behavior. This should be made clear in party announcements and reinforced through memos.


Drunk driving — If someone has been drinking at your holiday party and injures themselves or others on the drive home, you may be held liable, particularly if you had an open bar and didn’t set limits on how many drinks an employee can be served.

Holiday advice: If you plan on serving alcohol, you should consider:

  • Limiting consumption to two drinks. Drink tickets are a good way to go.
  • Serving drinks with lower alcohol content (beer/wine — not shots).
  • Offering a signature company “mocktail,” and providing water and non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Stopping serving at least an hour before the shindig ends.
  • Offering plenty of food to snack on, particularly high-carbohydrate and high-protein foods.
  • Holding the event at a hotel and offering free rooms to those who want to stay the night.
  • Offering free Uber or Lyft rides to your staff so they can get home safely.
  • Asking your managers to lead by example.
  • Inviting spouses and kids, which should force people to mind their p’s and q’s.


Food safety

The other big issue is food safety. It’s not uncommon for food from a catering service to sicken partygoers.

At an office party, foodborne illness can occur when people eat certain items that were either undercooked or left out at room temperature for too long. Eggs, raw egg products (e.g., eggnog), meat, seafood, and even fruits and vegetables (if not properly washed) are some of the most common offenders. Add to that the possibility of poor hygienic practices by the caterer’s staff.

 Holiday advice: To reduce the chances of foodborne illnesses during the festivities:

  • Observe the two-hour rule: don’t let foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours. For refrigerated items like deviled eggs, consider putting a few out at a time and replenishing when needed.
  • Place hot foods in crockpots, chaffing dishes, or on warming plates to maintain a safe temperature.
  • Cover food containers in the buffet line when not in use.
  • Use large spoons, forks, wax paper, tongs and other serving tools to avoid touching food by hand.
  • If you suspect anything has been out too long, toss it.

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