The Business Litigation Blog

Holiday Work Party Dangers

Tis’ the season. Every year around this time, businesses around the country rent out swanky venues and get together with coworkers to celebrate the season and look back at the successes of the past year. But not many businesses realize the possible risks that go along with holiday parties. Prevent lawsuits from arising as a result of this year’s company holiday party by becoming informed.

Many are unaware of the liability risk for serving alcohol. This applies not just around the holidays but year round. Did you know that the company could be liable for injuries caused as a result of an employee driving drunk after an office party?  It’s referred to as host liability and it comes from a state law. Mostly, these laws are applicable to businesses selling alcohol such as restaurants or a bar. However, some states have extended this as a legal duty of hosts. According to the website  Safetyxhange.org,   “In these states, courts have held employers liable for serving alcohol to a minor or an employee who becomes intoxicated and injures himself or someone else.”

Here’s an example: an employee who had been drinking at a holiday party in Ontario, drove her car home in a snowstorm, crashed her car and then turned around a filed a lawsuit against her company.  The woman ended up being rewarded $300,000, only a sliver of the $1.2 million assessed damage because of what the judge called the plaintiff’s “own fault in the matter,” but it is still the duty of employers to monitor the alcohol consumption of employees and company functions.

Here are some ways to manage these liability risks if you’re going to be serving alcohol at an event.

  1. Monitor alcoholic intake per guest (and their intoxication level). Consider getting a bartender who is only serving a limited number of drinks per person. Designate a couple individuals to monitor others, based on legal limits in determining intoxication.
  2. Provide safe rides home. Coordinate with a cab service to be on hand, designate a few people to drive sober or encourage employees to carpool with as many people as they can so that liability isn’t on the company.
  3. Sexual Harassment. We’ve all heard the speeches and HR presentations on what is appropriate in the workplace. Adding alcohol can present a dangerous situation and company employees in the past haven’t been shy in filing suits against unwanted or inappropriate behavior.

Keep these considerations in mind this holiday season. Always make sure your business is protected from litigation issues and have a wonderful holiday season. We recommend that the business owner or party organizer read the Bloomberg Businessweek article, “Planning Office Holiday Parties without Lawsuits.”

*Sources: 
http://www.safetyxchange.org/compliance-risk-management/assessing-avoiding-liability-risks
http://ohsinsider.com/do-diligence/alcohol-xmas-parties-managing-the-liability-risks

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