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How to Throw a (Nearly) Liability-Free Holiday Office Party

office holiday party

HNI Senior Claims Consultant

It's holiday office party season! Time to don your ugliest Christmas sweater and play Secret Santa to Bob in Accounting. (Yes, at HNI, we really do have a Bob in Accounting... but we didn't do Secret Santa this year.)

Some employers shy away from a Christmas party, viewing it as a minefield of HR issues and liability. But there are ways to mitigate those risks and still have a fabulous fete! Please consider your stocking stuffed with these seven party tips to protect employers and employees alike:

1.) Go Ahead and Have a Party [Make Merry]

Holiday parties are a great way for teammates to get to know more about what makes each other tick, which can build comradery in the office. They're a place where telecommuting employees can reconnect, and workers can catch up with colleagues they don't see a lot in the office. Don't let worries about overindulgence (yes, we're going to cover how to handle booze!) keep you from celebrating your accomplishments for the year. You all deserve a festive bash!

2.) Follow the Rules [Be a Good Little Elf]

Every employer has policies (sexual harassment, substance abuse, etc.), and it's a good practice to remind employees of the policies before the holiday party. Employers are responsible for what goes on at a holiday party and potentially what happens after the party. A gentle reminder of the rules lets everyone know which way the wind blows and could prevent unprofessional, embarrassing, or injurious behavior.

3.) Determine Whether You'll Have Christmas Spirits [Champagne or Sparkling Juice?]

At the first mention of a holiday party, employees are going to ask, "Will there be drinks?" And you know they're not talking about kiddie cocktails. Tell employees right off the bat whether there will be alcohol at the party. If your facilities are dry, it's not unreasonable to have the party be dry, too, even if you're having the party offsite. Let's be honest — a dry party is a lower-risk party than a gathering with booze.

4.) Encourage Responsible Revelry [Not Too Much Liquid Cheer]

If you do decide to have alcohol at your party, we suggest having a cash bar or giving employees a limited number of drink tickets. Make sure there are lots of tasty non-alcoholic choices to entice your guests, too. It's also wise to shut down the bar well before the party ends and to serve starchy and protein-rich foods, which stick around the stomach longer and help make sure drinks don't go straight to the heads of your employees. These tactics will help decrease the likelihood of impaired judgment due to alcohol.

5.) Arrange Transportation [Have a Sleigh Waiting]

Make sure there are designated drivers among your guests. If your party is offsite, it could be smart to rent a bus (or limo, if you're feeling fancy!) for employee transportation. Don't hesitate to call a cab for employees who partied too hard. Consider enlisting discreet colleagues to keep an eye out for heavy drinking. The goal is not to embarrass or tattle on employees, but to make sure they stay safe and to protect the company from potential liability.

6.) Know Liability Rules [What's Naughty, What's Nice]

Your insurance broker can tell you whether you'd have any liability for holiday-party-related injuries. More than likely, work comp would not cover an injury, but it doesn't hurt to investigate!

7.) Keep It Extracurricular [All Play and No Work]

It's a good idea to put lots of daylight between the workplace and the party to avoid any work comp issues. To create greater separation, make attendance voluntary, schedule the fete on a weeknight after hours, hold it offsite, and make it a family friendly event by including your employees' partners.

Office holiday parties are great places to make memories. Let's make sure they're merry, bright, and filled with cheer — and not employer liability.

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Photo by daveiam via Flickr

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