The holidays are approaching and you’re contemplating doing something nice for your employees by throwing a company party. You are in good company; according to a national survey, over 70% of business owners indicated that they were planning some sort of holiday party. Holiday parties have changed over the years, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one or that they can’t be fun.
A Little History
It wasn’t that long ago when nearly every available venue was booked solid on weekends in December hosting large scale business holiday parties. In fact, demand was so high that parties began
spilling into January just to have more choices and to free up the busy December social calendar. Major employers, ranging from construction companies to auto dealers to department stores hosted fairly lavish holiday parties, many that offered a full dinner and open bar followed by a live band. Today many have scaled back or even eliminated their parties all together.
Nothing in particular caused the change. Much has happened going back to the 1980’s that has affected liability including liquor liability and dram shop insurance laws. Changes in legal drinking ages and limits for alcohol consumption for operating a vehicle are some other factors, and taking employees out of the workplace and into a “party atmosphere” with alcohol consumption can incur other problems with sexual harassment law suits. Additionally, rough economic times in the late 70’s and early 80’s contributed to these expenditures being trimmed from company budgets. Many parties discontinued and were never revived.
There is NO need to throw the company holiday party to the wayside in the 21st Century. You just have to be smarter and protect yourself. Company parties are a great opportunity to celebrate the holidays, mingle and relax with coworkers. So here are a few simple guidelines to minimize potential liability and/or issues:
Avoid any discrimination, and remember when inviting employees, invite them all. Don’t exclude anyone or any department. If you plan on inviting spouses be sure the invite includes both spouses and domestic partners, and be very specific whether or not children are included. Also, be crystal clear that attending is NOT mandatory.
Here is your biggest risk factor. When you serve alcohol at a party you are accepting responsibility for your guests. Make sure plenty of non-alcoholic beverage options are available, serve food to
avoid anyone drinking on empty stomachs, and consider having designated drivers or cabs available for transportation if need be. Having a licensed caterer provide the alcohol service is highly
recommended regardless of where your party is being held.
Don’t let your party become an environment for problems. Consider a dress code and encourage spouses and significant others to attend. Remember, particularly with social media, what happens at the holiday party does not necessarily stay at the holiday party. Keep it as professional as possible.
Your business holiday party can and should be a fun and rewarding experience. There are many options and things to consider. Keep it simple and at the office, if space permits, or move off site to a banquet facility or restaurant where you can really put work aside. Most importantly plan, be organized and be responsible!