Holiday Party Cheer Without Litigation Fear

Written by Robert G. Brody and Rebecca Goldberg on December 19, 2011


Do you want to hold a company holiday party, but worry about being sued?  In the past, employers have faced worker’s compensation claims for holiday party injuries as well as lawsuits for sexual harassment, drunk driving by employees, and religious discrimination.  Some companies are asking employees to sign holiday party waivers, but they won’t be effective if a third-party is injured, not to mention that a court is unlikely to enforce a waiver of a sexual harassment claim signed before the offensive conduct occurred.  Instead, focus on prevention.  Following these tips can help you protect your business from costly litigation without putting the kibosh on holiday cheer.

First, make it clear that participation in the party is entirely voluntary.  This simple step may protect your company from a worker’s compensation suit if an employee is injured.  Also, some employees may be uncomfortable attending a holiday party for any number of reasons, so keep it optional.

Second, many of the sexual harassment, worker’s compensation, and drunk driving matters can be prevented if alcohol consumption is reduced or eliminated.  Surveys show that alcohol-free workplace holiday parties are about as common as those with alcohol.  If you decide to provide alcohol, consider limiting consumption through drink tickets or a cash bar.  Inviting spouses and significant others is a good idea.  Their presence can temper drinking and inappropriate conduct toward coworkers.  Holding the event at a restaurant where bartenders serve the drinks can also help limit your liability in the event of injury to third-parties.  Also, encourage designated drivers or provide taxi vouchers to keep impaired drivers off the road.

Finally, remember to respect the diversity of your workplace.  Many companies employ workers of different faiths, and a holiday party should not make some employees feel excluded.  A “winter celebration” or “New Years’ party” is likely to make everyone feel comfortable.  Neutral decorations keep the party festive but non-religious.

Office holiday parties provide a great opportunity to reward employees, build camaraderie, and celebrate the season.  Considering and addressing the risks can keep the holidays fun and joyous for you and your employees.

We wish everyone a happy holiday season.  We offer assistance to management on these and all types of employment-related issues.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.

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Related Topics: Legal Updates, Religious, Sex

About the Authors

Robert G. Brody is the founding member of Brody and Associates, LLC. He has been quoted and published in national publications and appears as a guest T.V. commentator on contemporary Labor and Employment issues. Learn More