Monday, December 1, 2008

Office Party: Here Are 13.5 Tips To Avoid Lawsuits After A Holiday Office Party

The annual holiday office party can be joyous, festive, memorable...and hazardous to the financial health of the business. But without careful planning, you could end up getting sued for what happens at your party...or what happens AFTER your party.

I’m defining “office party” as an employer-sponsored party, including parties where business associates, employee spouses or “significant others” are invited. As an insurance adjuster, I know many vendors, such as accounting firms and fire restoration contractors, that invite adjusters and insurance company personnel to their parties. The adult beverages flow freely at these parties.

If you are hosting a business holiday party, here are Top Tips to keep you out of a lawsuit.

1. Before holiday parties, send out interoffice memos, do bulletin board postings or have meetings in which you urge moderation, and gently explain the measures that will be taken to ensure a safe and successful party. It would be a good idea to distribute your party plan in writing to all employees and invitees.

2. Schedule the party on a weekend or after normal business hours.

3. Hold the party at an offsite location. Better if problems arise away from the business premises.

4. Don't require employees to attend as a condition of their employment.

5. Don't take attendance at the party.

6. Make the party a family event, including spouses and children.

7. Assign certain supervisors or managers as “hosts” to oversee the event.

8. Don't pay for drinks. Guest will drink less if they have to pay for drinks themselves.

9. If you feel you must furnish alcoholic beverages, consider a drink voucher system to limit the number of drinks served. Or, serve alcohol for only a short period.

10. Don’t sell alcoholic beverages at the party. No cash bar arranged by the employer. If your party is at a location that has its own liquor license, and guests buy drinks at their bar, so be it. But you still must make sure they arrive home safely.

11. Hire a separate bartender or caterer to serve alcohol. He will know better when to say ‘No’ to a guest who’s had one too many. The hired bartender should have his own liability insurance and provide you a copy of his insurance certificate BEFORE the party. Instruct the bartender/caterer to notify an appropriate event manager if he finds someone who’s had too much to drink.

12. Serve plenty of non-alcoholic beverages: water, sodas, juices, coffee, tea.

13. Arrange transportation for intoxicated employees. Call a cab, use designated drivers, or provide discounted or free rooms if the party is held at a hotel.

Remember that even if you carry adequate insurance, known as "host liquor liability insurance coverage," it will likely not afford coverage for your business if alcoholic beverages are being sold at your party. You should purchase additional liquor liability insurance coverage before the party.

13.5 Another huge potential problem is dealing with a sexual harassment lawsuit because of an incident at the party. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and you could have an employee or guest who files a grievance or lawsuit against another employee and the business...or even against another guest...for unwanted sexual advances at YOUR party.

Mention this potential problem to your party “hosts,” and have them be alert for guests or employees who are "too friendly" with other people at the party.

Lastly, make sure you investigate ALL complaints. If you just ignore or shrug off complaints, your business could be in worse trouble than if you just deal with it.

In closing, don’t look at this article as a “buzz kill.” Consider that I’m the lighthouse on the shore, alerting you to the rocks and shoals. Avoid them, and your “voyage” will be a happy one!

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