What's Your Liability for an Employee Office Party?

By Rebecca Batisto

What's Your Liability for an Employee Office Party?

Every employee has one story of an office party that went awry. As we approach the holiday season, how can you make sure that your office party is a morale booster for employees without being the inappropriate story that becomes a legend? After all, reckless behavior might be funny, but not when it ends up as a liability.

The main cause of a holiday party becoming a liability is alcohol. Not serving alcohol will save you from a lot of issues during the event and after, ensuring a safe drive home for employees. Many companies, however, feel that offering alcoholic drinks to employees is part of throwing a party. If you decide to serve cocktails, wine, or beer, here are some ways to limit your liability:

1. Consider hosting the night at an offsite location. Having a party at a restaurant might appear expensive up front but it could end up saving your business. If an unfortunate situation should arise, the restaurant is more likely to be liable than your own business. That being said, you’re not out of the woods entirely. A civil suit could name your business at fault if alcohol was part of your party*.

2. Lead by example. Make sure all executives and managers are clear on their responsibilities during the evening. They are responsible for making sure everyone is happy AND safe. They should not be ordering drinks but introducing and involving all employees in the festivities.

3. Choose a weekday for the event. Employees are less likely to make the party into a late-night affair or drink too much if they know they have to be at work tomorrow. Of course, there is the risk that some employees won’t show up the next day, so perhaps run this idea past managers to get their thoughts before setting any dates in stone.

4. Send a warning email to employees beforehand. Obviously, you need to keep it lighthearted, but reminding employees that they should consider transportation home before the party starts could keep people safe and reduce your liability. You could use this email to suggest a designated driver to take several employees home at the end of the night. Offering a prize to designated drivers will improve your chances of getting more employees to sign up for the role. And, of course, there’s always Uber or Lyft

5. Limit alcohol. Of course, the easiest way to minimize your risk is still to tackle the alcohol. Limiting alcohol is an easy trick. At a full dinner, serve alcohol only during the appetizer and main course, giving people a chance to sober up during dessert and coffee. If your event is more casual, provide drink tokens to limit alcohol consumption, serve only beer or wine, or do not pay for drinks at all. This will reduce your liability and save you money, which is another aspect of a holiday party that sometimes goes unchecked.

The office holiday party should be fun. Even though you are taking the company’s liability into consideration, that doesn’t mean that employees will enjoy the party any less. After all, minimizing risks ahead of time will help you to maximize enjoyment at the events.

If you’re a business owner in need of a workers’ compensation policy, ask your local agent for a Normandy Insurance Company quote. If you’re an insurance agent, feel free to share this post with clients.

(*Disclaimer: Normandy Insurance Company writes blog posts to help business owners and insurance agents understand their insurance risks. We write from a general point of view and all advice should be combined with research of risks specific to your business and industry. For help on your specific risks, please contact us directly: 866-688-6442)

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