By Jackie Clausnitzer, PHR, SHRM-CP
HR Services Partner

The end of the year is quickly approaching and many employers are planning their annual employee holiday parties. These social gatherings are typically held to thank employees for all of their hard work over the past year, socialize outside of work time, and to lift employee morale.

Potential issues that may arise from such festivities include discrimination and harassment, along with accidents and injuries. While an employer cannot eliminate all the liability that may come from a company-sponsored event, they can minimize their legal exposure.

By partnering with a Professional Employer Organization, such as Resourcing Edge, you can have access to HR professionals who can advise you about lessening your risks when it’s time to party. Not only can your PEO provide HR services that you need, but you’ll also be covered by an Employers Practices Liability Insurance policy should a claim of discrimination or harassment occur.

What can an employer do to minimize their risks?

  1. Do not serve alcohol or limit the amount of alcohol served. This step alone is the easiest way to limit an employer’s risk, as alcohol is the main reason a company-sponsored event can become a problem. In a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, about three-fifths (59%) of HR professionals indicated that their organizations plan to serve alcohol at their end-of-year/holiday party. If you feel that offering alcohol as part of your event, here are some ideas that help to control the amount served.
  • Do not have an open bar. When drinks are free, there is a bit of a tendency for people to overdo it.
  • Only serve alcohol during the event’s happy hour or along with an appetizer before dinner is served.
  • Provide drink vouchers or tokens, so that you can control the number of alcoholic beverages a person consumes.
  • Serve only beer and wine, no liquor or fruity drinks.
  • Offer a cash bar only. This action not only minimizes your risk but saves you money, too.
  1. Hold the event off-site, outside of non-working hours. Restaurant’s staff their establishments with “professional bartenders who are trained not to overserve customers.” If there is a problem, the restaurant may share in any liability.
  2. Include in your policies one that addresses the authorized and reasonable consumption of alcohol by an employee of legal drinking age at company-sponsored functions or activities or for business entertainment purposes.
  3. Change the day of the event to a weekday. If employees have to get up to go to work the next day, they typically won’t make it a late night. People also have a tendency to reduce their alcohol consumption when they have to go to work the next day.
  4. Include multiple activities at the event, such as dancing, entertainment, games, or even a photo booth. This gives people other things to do besides drinking.
  5. Include on the event invitation reminders to be responsible and drink in moderation.
  6. Remind your management team to lead by example.
  7. If someone seems intoxicated, do not let them drive. Put them in a cab yourself.
  8. Leading up to the event, remind your employees that this is a company-sponsored event and that the workplace policies on harassment and alcohol are in effect.

Remember, you want your year-end event to be fun and stress-free for everyone, including management. Evaluate your risks ahead of time and put contingencies in place before the event. Most of all, celebrate!

If you’d like to learn more about how Resourcing Edge can help you with HR, payroll, benefits, and more so you can concentrate on your bottom line, contact us.

Jackie Clausnitzer, HR Services Partner at Resourcing Edge, has more than 25 years of HR experience gained at manufacturing and service companies. She is certified as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and a SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP).

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