With the season comes holiday parties for employers, customers and vendors. Employers will need to do their part to make sure these sponsored events remain free of liability. Here are some suggestions:
- Are your policies up to date? Remind employees that company policies, including those on harassment, apply to them at functions whether within or without the office. Moreover, the employer has obligations to deal with harassment not only between employees, but harassment of vendors or customers towards employees as well.
- To Drink or Not to Drink? In Minnesota, there is no social host liability for alcohol consumption at a social gathering unless minors are served. Just because liability may be limited does not provide a license to imbibe. Employers should consider whether alcohol is appropriate for their function, remembering that lowered inhibitions may bring with it unintended consequences leading to harassment or other allegations. Should alcohol be served, it would be incumbent on leaders to set the example for staff and mind their “Ps and Qs.” It may be a benefit to have a catering service with a bartender serve alcohol so they can independently monitor and stop the flow to someone who has too much. If alcohol is served, have food available. Also have soft drinks or other nonalcoholic beverages available as well. Finally, make sure alternative travel is available to make sure attendees have an alternative way home.
- Mandatory or Not? Granted, some holiday events are marketing events, and there may be reasons why an employer may want all hands on deck for a holiday party. For the most part, however, a holiday party should be a voluntary event. It is a time to make merry and appreciate colleagues, and the actual work itself should be secondary or nonexistent at the event.
- All are Welcome. Inclusiveness is important and all employees should feel welcome to attend whatever their beliefs.
- Timing. Consider whether the event should be at the workplace and during work hours. It will give people a break from their usual workday and allow those who may otherwise be unable to attend for family or other evening constraints to participate. If it is to be after hours, consider a venue away from the office to make it a special event that is not centered on the work itself.
- Enjoy yourself!