However limited an organization’s party budget is, most of them still use the holiday season to show their employees their appreciation for their year-long efforts by holding a holiday party on or off company premises. In the last several years, however, many organizations have looked carefully at how they approach the annual holiday party, for legal and economical reasons.
Employers are trying to find cost-effective ways to say “thank you” and build morale. Some have turned to the holiday lunch on December 24 instead of planning for an evening event. No matter the format or the cost, there are legitimate issues to be considered: what kind of non-religious holiday celebrations should organizations provide? What are the legal implications involved in holiday parties, particularly in regard to the use of alcohol?
Employers need to be responsible, inclusive and aware.
Companies can be liable if an employee has an accident after drinking at a holiday party. Employers also need to be sensitive to the diverse backgrounds and beliefs in their workplaces. And they should remember that liability for sexual and other types of harassment doesn’t stop at the office.
Moreover, employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. One important point to remember is that the law imposes a duty of care on employers to provide a safe workplace and protect employees from harm, including harm resulting from an employee’s own actions. “Harm” can mean physical harm, damage to property and violence, but also consists of sexual and other forms of harassment. Employers can also be held liable for injuries or damages caused by an employee to themselves or to a third party after an employee gets drunk at a company-sponsored event. For that reason, it is appropriate that holiday party plans take into account some simple measures to ensure employee safety and minimize the risk of claims.
To avoid liability, employers should take precautions in preparing for such events. They should set up and communicate clear guidelines to all employees and supervisors/managers on proper conduct and employer expectations.
Several articles have already been posted on HRinfodesk (some recent, some oldies but goodies, but all still relevant) that expand on this very important human resources issue, as well as some do’s and dont’s. Make sure you take the time to read and remind yourself of the precautions you should be taking when planning your company’s holiday party. By following a few simple steps, employers can feel confident that a safe and enjoyable time will be had by all.
- Responsibilities of employers during a company-hosted party
- Challenges in planning the holiday party
- The do’s and don’ts of company-sponsored events
And there’s much more… (Subscribers can search HRinfodesk using several keywords such as “holiday party” or “company hosted event”, or “vicarious liability”, among others.)
Human Resources and Compliance Managing Editor