Planning a holiday party for your company? Many small business owns say they plan to host some type of social function during the holidays for their employees. Holiday get-togethers are a good way to say thanks to everyone for a job well done throughout the year, and they can be good bonding opportunities too. But sometimes the holiday cheer can go a little too far and that may mean serious consequences for your business.
Employers can be held liable for actions that occur during or as the result of an employer sponsored social event. It’s a concept known as social host liability and it is recognized in most jurisdictions across the country.
So much for holiday cheer!
Okay, no need to turn into a Scrooge. With a little common sense and good advice, you can host a safe and successful holiday soiree.
Before you before you plan your workplace festivities need to make a couple of important phone calls. Check with your attorney to see what the liquor laws are in your area. Also call your insurance carrier and find out what liability coverage you have. It is possible to purchase liability insurance for one particular holiday party from most insurance carriers.
It’s a good idea to make food and activities the focus of the festivities rather than the booze. Hold your gathering off-site, if possible because that may shift some of the potential liability to the hotel or restaurant where the event is held. An off-site party also helps eliminate any implication that work is being conducted during the party.
The party should not be a mandatory event and you should communicate that clearly to your employees. Every state has some variation in the applicable laws, but in general as an employer you want to make sure that the social event is not a commercial endeavor such as work. Furthermore, you don’t want employees to infer from anything actions on your part that they are required to attend and drink. That can be a big red flag for liability in many states.
If an employee is required to attend an event, they can be covered under worker’s comp insurance if there is an accident or a fall down the steps because they were there because their employer requested them to be there…it is just as if they were on the job.
Once again, laws regarding social host liability vary by state, but here are a few more common sense steps you can take to minimize your risk.
If you serve alcohol, hire a bartender who knows the signs of intoxication. Don’t put bottles out or provide an open tap. Also, don’t have servers circulating with drinks on trays. Require attendees to go to the bar for each drink.
Offer one or two complimentary drink tickets. Subsequent drinks are on their tab. They’ll drink less, and you’ll save money.
Offer plenty of food, soft drinks and coffee. However, don’t serve salty foods because they make you thirsty and you drink more as a result.
Assign someone to keep an eye on the guests, especially if they’re having drinks brought to their table. Watch everyone on the way out, and provide rides home for anyone not in shape to drive.