The Office Party: Tips on Avoiding A Workplace Lawsuit - Free Enterprise
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The Office Party: Tips on Avoiding A Workplace Lawsuit

With the holiday season approaching, you are probably planning an office holiday party in order to boost teamwork and morale amongst your own employees. But did you know that the office party opens you up to liability for a workplace lawsuit?

The United States Department of Labor states that holding a office holiday party with improper use of alcohol can make employers vulnerable to liability under tort, workers' compensation or other laws.

In fact, under California law, while there is no social host liability according to Dan Eaton (legal analyst on KPBS San Diego), there is business host liability in tort law.

This liability was decided in the case Harris v. Trojan Fireworks Company. In this case, the Court found a sufficient nexus between an employer's holiday party and an employee's auto accident to justify holding the employer financially responsible for the injuries that occurred during the employee's auto accident.

Some of the reasons that a sufficient nexus was found were:

  • The party was held on work premises
  • The party was held during work hours
  • The employee was paid to attend the party (he was on the clock)
  • Alcohol was served during the party

According to the United States Department of Labor, the annual employer cost of motor vehicle crashes in which at least one driver was alcohol-impaired is more than $9 billion, including wage-risk premiums.

How do you ensure that you don't get hit with a workplace lawsuit after an office holiday party? Here are some tips garnered from Dan Eaton's advice on KPBS and from the United States Department of Labor's website:

1) Try to abstain from serving alcohol at your holiday party altogether. There are lots of fun "mocktails" you can serve instead that are just as festive.

2) Be up front with your employees about your work policy with regards to alcoholic beverages in any work related situations or functions.

3) Post that policy in any form you can. That includes memos, emails, etc.

4) Abstain from holding the party on office premises. Try something like volunteering at a local soup kitchen. That way the only buzz employees get will be the feel good buzz of helping others.

5) Serve rich and starchy foods in order to combat alcohol hitting the bloodstream too fast if you do decide to serve alcohol.

6) Make sure to hold the party during non-work hours. Make sure that you inform employees that the party is purely a voluntary event.

7) Make plans for alternative ways for employees to get home. Encourage employees who have had any alcohol to use these alternatives.

8) Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends.

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