Company Rules May Not Be In Effect At Holiday Party, But Laws Are

The last thing any employer wants to receive during the holidays is a lawsuit resulting from a company Christmas party. An article published in the Ventura County Star on November 26, 2011, called attention to a number of issues where employers can avoid liability issues without coming across like Scrooge.

Sexual harassment and drunken driving accidents after holiday parties are far and away the liability issues appearing most often in court records, according to the Star. Among the suggestions offered to avoid a legal headache:

  • Do not have someone dress up as Santa Claus — It is typically not a good move to have managers or other employees put on Santa suits and demand that female employees sit on their laps. According to the Star, a California appeals court recently decided a case involving “an office Christmas party where a manager at an Orange County advertising agency dressed as Santa Claus and had three female employees sit on his lap while he asked them personal questions.”
  • Avoid distributing any religious material — Take precautions to avert the perception of religious harassment in planning holiday parties.
  • Take extra care with any alcohol — While the safest route is simply not to serve alcohol at all, there are other options for parties that do not want to prohibit it entirely. One alternative is to have the party off site, “ideally at a location with a professional bartender who is trained to assess people’s conditions and not let things get out of control,” according to the Star. Also, a no-host bar, where employees buy their own drinks, provides the employer with “a little more insulation from liability because the employees will be less likely to take advantage and overindulge.” Hosts can be held liable for third parties injured by their guests, the Star noted.
  • Skip the mistletoe —When paired with “excessive libations,” dangers seem rather self-evident.

While employers are not likely to deal with any complaints of quid pro quo sexual harassment following a holiday party, almost all other types of harassment cannot be ruled out. These parties can offer a tremendously enjoyable time for many companies and their workers, but it is important to take preventive measures in advance so the business can have such celebrations every year. Have you had a Christmas party that led to legal troubles? What precautions have you or your employer taken to eliminate any liability issues?

Law Offices of Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob – Los Angeles employment lawyers