Articles | Cases

HR Tip: Office parties: proceed with caution

As the season for holiday office parties approaches, it's important for employers planning parties to take steps to minimize liabilities, including workers' compensation, discrimination, harassment, and third party injuries. Here are ten tips to help ensure that cheer does not turn into a legal nightmare:

  1. Be sure workers understand that attendance is voluntary.
  2. Hold after work hours and off site, reducing the likelihood the party will be perceived as work related.
  3. Avoid presentation of awards, bonuses or other recognition that suggest employees are there for business reasons.
  4. Be cautious about inviting vendors, clients or others with whom you have a business relationship.
  5. Invite spouses and significant others.
  6. Remind employees that normal workplace standards of conduct are to be respected. Parties, particularly when alcohol is served, can lead to sexual harassment or discrimination claims. Treat any discrimination or harassment claims that arise seriously and conduct appropriate investigations
  7. Limit or do not serve alcohol. Do not have an open bar. Close the bar at least one hour before the end of the party. Be sure that alcohol is served by a professional bartender or at a licensed establishment. Serve plenty of food, if serving alcohol. Arrange for no-cost transportation for any employee who should not drive home.
  8. Don't allow employees to post company party images/comments on social media outlets without having a policy in place.
  9. Be careful of language and decorations - don't call it a Christmas party or invite "husbands and wives."
  10. Discuss your exposure with your insurance agent.