WorkplaceWritten by Jason Ubay On 05 December 2012
Beware intoxication and harassment at the office holiday party, NFIB warns

It’s that time of year, and who doesn’t like a celebratory bash with with food and drink hosted by your employer? However, with a potent mixture of booze and possible office tension, company parties could get ugly fast.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) recently released the following office party warnings to its members:

Alcohol

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 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.

Discrimination/Harassment

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.

I certainly like the idea of more heavy foods at a holiday party, and let’s face it, not everyone is a drinker. On the topic of mistletoe, does anyone actually kiss under one? I feel like it’s some sort of urban legend that’s been passed around by perverts and creepy white-bearded men.

Will your company have a holiday party this year?

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About Author

Managing Editor, Hawaii Business magazine. He's also representing the mag on Facebook and Twitter at @hawaiibusiness. You can follow him on Twitter at @jubay.

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