The National Federation for Independent Business says business owners face a lot of legal risks at these events, the vast majority of which involve alcohol.
The most obvious risk? "Drunk driving. Drinking too much and getting in the vehicle afterwards. And the other concern with over indulgence is inappropriate behavior that can happen," says Beth Milito, Senior Executive Counsel with the NFIB.
Socializing, alcohol and mistletoe can combine to create an environment that can lead to sexual harassment claims, and she says just because it's a holiday party doesn't mean the employer can't be held liable. "Harassment suits can result from voluntary events held outside the office and outside normal work hours."
Plus there are the risks of drunken fights, leading to injuries for which the employer can be held legally liable.
She suggests owners recruit managers at the event to keep watch, and 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 lookout for people who have had too much to drink and are 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 can 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 held liable for what happens.
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.