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    Tips for employers to avoid holiday party headaches

    While office holiday parties provide employees with an opportunity to celebrate a successful year with their colleagues, they can also cause headaches for employers. With some advanced planning, employers can minimize their risk of liability and spend their holiday parties enjoying the celebration, rather than disciplining employees.

    Prior to the party, employers should recirculate and remind all employees of the company’s conduct policies and that they will be subject to discipline if they violate the policies during the party. Employees should also be briefed on the proper protocol for reporting any misconduct they witness or learn of during or after the party.

    Here are several issues to consider before decking the halls:

    Alcohol served at the holiday party

    Employers may be held liable for injuries caused to third parties by employees under the influence of alcohol. Employers can reduce such liability by making it clear that holiday party attendance is voluntary. If alcohol is served during the holiday party, employers should consider implementing safeguards when possible:

    • Consider limiting the type or amount of drinks per employee
    • Prohibit employees from serving alcohol to themselves or others
    • Instruct bartenders to stop service to employees who appear intoxicated
    • Ensure food is served throughout the duration of the party
    • Offer a variety of nonalcoholic drinks
    • Inform employees before and after the party of cab or rideshare options in advance of the event; consider using a car or shuttle service for off-site parties or offering to reimburse for cab or Uber trip home

    Workers’ compensation

    Injuries that occur in the course and scope of employment can result in costly claims. Employers should advise employees in advance of the party that attendance at the event is voluntary and not considered within the scope of their employment. Ohio employers can also have employees sign an Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation recreational waiver that has been modified to include parties, thus underscoring the fact that social activities are “not in the course of employment.”

    Sexual harassment

    Relaxed social settings, especially when mixed with alcohol, can result in inappropriate behavior and misconduct. Employers should ensure their policies outline appropriate conduct at company-sponsored events. If an issue occurs during the holiday party, ensure that a confidential and effective investigation is conducted and that remedial action is taken when necessary. Additionally, protect all related employees from instances of retaliation.

    Diversity and inclusion

    Employers should be mindful of and honor the varying holiday traditions of their workforce. Avoid decorations, activities and internal communications that have a particular focus on only one of the holidays celebrated during this season.

    While the risks of hosting and attending company holiday parties are not completely avoidable, small efforts on an employer’s part can certainly help reduce risk.

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