Publisher’s Note: It’s really a sad fact that we even need to bring up these issues, but in today’s times everyone needs to be careful about their level of ‘fun’ and protect themselves and their businesses from many different types of claims and liability.
It’s that time of the year again, and as it does every holiday-party season, the Small Business Legal Center of the National Federation of Independent Business, America’s Voice of Small Business, is advising its members to keep celebrations safe by watching out for two problem areas: Intoxication and harassment.
An increasing number of states require employers to exercise reasonable care to prevent injuries by intoxicated employees leaving holiday parties. To avoid many of these liability issues, an employer should lessen the role that alcohol will play during the festivities. Consider the following suggestions when planning your office party:
- Make sure the party is voluntary.
- Use professional bartenders, and instruct them not to serve anyone who appears intoxicated.
- Distribute drink tickets to limit the number of free drinks.
- Serve heavy foods throughout the night so people aren’t drinking on an empty stomach.
- Ask trusted managers and supervisors to be on the look-out for people who have had too much to drink and unable to drive or need assistance getting home.
- Make sure employees have alternate transportation home, such as a designated driver or a taxi.
- Remind employees about any company policies on conduct and substance abuse before the party.
Socializing, alcohol, and mistletoe combine to create an environment that can lead to sexual harassment claims. Just because it’s a holiday party doesn’t mean you can’t be liable for what happens as an employer. Harassment suits can result from voluntary events held outside the office and outside normal work hours.
- Remind employees about your harassment policies before the party.
- If your business does not have an anti-harassment policy, get one! Have it reviewed by an attorney.
- Don’t hang mistletoe.
- Inform all employees that they have a duty to report sexual harassment that they experience or witness.
- Finally, make sure that all employees understand that a holiday party is still a work-related activity, and that rules for appropriate work behavior still apply.
For more than 70 years, the National Federation of Independent Business has been the Voice of Small Business, taking the message from Main Street to the halls of Congress and all 50 state legislatures. NFIB annually surveys its members on state and federal issues vital to their survival as America’s economic engine and biggest creator of jobs. NFIB’s educational mission is to remind policymakers that small businesses are not smaller versions of bigger businesses; they have very different challenges and priorities.