With holiday events in the planning stages, here are a few tips to keep your parties plaintiff-free.
- Call your party a “holiday” event; steer clear of labels that denote faith. Employees should feel included no matter what their spiritual beliefs.
- Almost 40 percent of holiday traffic fatalities involve drinking and driving. Limit the number of drinks served and when you do furnish liquor, serve food. Either hold the party during the day at the workplace sans alcohol, or limit drinks served. Ensure employees who imbibe have rides home. If you choose to serve alcohol, check with your agent to make sure you have liquor liability in place.
- Set boundaries before the event. Tell employees you want them to have fun, but they will be held to the same standards as they are in the workplace. As one little boy said in church after the minister asked him if he had fun in Sunday school, “Well, I had fun, but not a lot of fun.” Encourage employees to have fun, but not at the expense of inappropriate behavior.
- Watch for decorating injuries. During the holidays as employees place decorations, they frequently take shortcuts, standing on boxes, desks, or chairs. Before they begin, talk to employees on decorating committees and make sure they have the appropriate equipment like ladders and proper electrical outlets. Also, stay away from cut live trees. There is too much potential for fire and your local fire code may not allow it.
- If serving alcohol, schedule games or karaoke, something to take the focus off drinking and onto group activities. Appoint or hire a bartender who is chintzy on the booze and long on mixer.
- Make sure the food you serve is safe. Check caterers’ references and if preparing food in-house, keep it at appropriate temperatures. Taking shortcuts can mean food poisoning. Also be sure to avoid allergy-inducing foods that contain nuts, shellfish and dairy products.
- Appoint a few party wardens, especially if your party involves drinking. These stewards can casually circulate and ensure that everyone plays nice. Sexual harassment suits often spring from mixing alcohol and business.
- If you prepare punch with alcohol, use a non-carbonated beverage as the mixer. Many believe that alcohol enters the bloodstream faster with a carbonated beverage than with fruit juice.
- Close the bar 90 minutes before the party ends.
- Managers should model appropriate behavior. Remember, when negative events happen at office parties, they remain a lively discussion topic years after the event is over. Remind all employees that one bad-hair event can hammer a professional reputation for years.
The holidays are a wonderful time of the year. However, with the economic crunch, many companies are cutting back on festivities. Especially if your company has endured layoffs or downsizing, remaining employees may feel uncomfortable partying while their former coworkers are struggling to find jobs elsewhere. With the economy in the shape it is in, organizations may consider canceling the festivities and donating the cost of the party to a local charity.
How your business celebrates this year is a management decision, but one lawsuit arising from a party can hurt your loss ratio, your reputation, or your experience-modification factor for years to come.