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As Employer Holiday Parties Return Review Your Safety and Liability Policies and Practices

December 9, 2022

By Mike Burns, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

In ASE’s most recent survey of employer holiday practices, 68% of respondents reported they will be hosting an in-person holiday event this year. For many employers and their employees this may be the first company social event held in years so let’s review employer safety and liability concerns.

Let’s start with the biggest party concern. That of serving alcohol at a company sponsored event. Many employers just simply will not have alcohol at a company event. However, if alcohol is to be served, it’s best to hold the event at a restaurant or other licensed off-site location. That venue will assume much of the control and also liability under their liquor license and their staff will (hopefully) be responsible for limiting alcohol consumption. That said, employer liability for injuries caused by employees that have consumed alcohol at company functions varies from state to state.

If the event has to be held on company property, hire a professional bartender or caterer. Confirm they carry liability insurance and will be responsible for monitoring drinking. And check the company’s own liability insurance. The Company’s General Liability insurance coverage may be enough, but if not, an extension of liability insurance to cover social events may be acquired.

Assign a company representative who will stay sober and intercede if things get out of hand. The employer may want to have alternative transportation available for persons who might be intoxicated. Give the company representative monitoring the party the authority to make the call and respond to anyone that may over-indulge.

To control against employees over-indulging, the employer can set a drink limit or set the length and time of the social event so as to limit the intake of alcohol.

To minimize the risk of Workers’ Compensation Liability, disassociate the function from the employee’s job by:

  • Ensuring everyone knows the event is voluntary and does not have a business purpose. This will also avoid possible wage and hour claims. That being the case, if the event is after hours refrain from conducting any business after normal work hours and avoid asking employees to perform specific functions during the event to avoid claims that they (non-exempt/hourly) were required to work off the clock.
  • Hosting the event off the employer’s premises.
  • And again, make sure the off-site host is properly licensed to serve alcohol.

These days a new concern may come up. Somebody may actually ask if they can bring marijuana to the event. Even though recreational use of marijuana is legal in Michigan and 20 or so other states, employers should remember, they are still in control not only on their property but at any event they host. Employers are advised to remind employees that company substance abuse policies are also in place at company sponsored event – even if the event is after work hours and off company property. Know your state law on this.

Avoid the potential for sexual harassment. It may be advisable to remind everyone about inappropriate behavior at the event. If possible, and it always is, tell employees that social behavior at company events should not involve risqué or adult themed gifting and avoid customs and practices that could lead to inappropriate behavior such as hanging mistletoe.

Other considerations:

  • Keep religion out of the party.
  • Avoid parties and layoffs – if you want to appear really insensitive to a lot of your employees throw an extravagant party around the time layoffs are conducted.
  • Inviting significant others may possibly instill some control given they may keep an eye on your employees and get them home safely. This of course can go the other way should an employee guest forget proper decorum.
  • Also make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and food to eat.

Many of the above guidelines are suggested around the concern of serving of alcohol. The best advice may be to avoid having alcohol at company events period.

Happy Holidays!

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