Lessons Learned: 5 Office Party Lawsuits
Office party lawsuits are just as much a part of holiday traditions as the party itself. But if it's your client that gets slapped with a lawsuit, you're going to be the one dealing with the fallout.
Not only will you have extra work on your plate, your boss probably won't be happy that you weren't able to prevent it from happening. Telling him "I didn't even see this coming" probably won't help your case.
To help you think of every scenario to prevent or at least insulate your client from liability, we've rounded up a number of office party lawsuits, from the typical to the completely ridiculous, that you can learn from:
- The intoxicated employee who crashes her car. Holiday parties often involve drinking. After the party people need to get home, which often means driving. Mix the two and you have a potential problem, especially if you provided the alcohol. Like any social host, employers need to be aware of how much alcohol employees consume at a party and stop them from driving if they've had too much. Maybe it's a good idea to budget some cab money for the night too.
- The drunken party fight. Lack of discipline can be a reason an employee would sue your client, such as failure to stop a drunken fight between employees at a holiday party. That's what happened to staffers at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles who had some kind of brawl at their holiday party. Tell your client to discourage that kind of behavior and discipline employees who act inappropriately or risk being the defendant in a lawsuit.
- The religious party. Given all the antidiscrimination laws out there, it would seem obvious that holiday parties shouldn't include any religious affiliation. But some companies do it anyway. The EEOC has already ruled that companies cannot discipline or belittle employees for their religious practice. Avoid any specific reference to religious holidays and just celebrate the season.
- The party that ends at a strip club. The law firm of Glancy Binkow & Goldberg found itself the subject of a lawsuit after its holiday party in 2009. A partner allegedly took several employees to a strip club after the party, paid for their admission, and bought at least one person a lap dance. The suit was part of a larger claim of a hostile work environment, but it's still a good idea to warn people not to keep the party going after its official end time.
- The holiday "sex party." The holiday party for the Markum Inn took a turn for the worst when the manager's husband took off his clothes and paraded around naked. His wife encouraged her employees to do a ring toss on her husband's genitalia and guess his size. So it's no surprise an employee sued on multiple counts.