While social functions help to build employee morale and loyalty and they can be a lot of fun, serious consequences can result which could create liability for an employer. Since the majority of employers hold some kind of holiday celebration, it’s a good time of year to remind our clients about the risks of sponsoring a social event and the measures they can take to decrease that risk.
Staples.com offers the following suggestions for employers who host office gatherings:
1. Plan a party off of company property if alcohol is served. If the restaurant or facility is using licensed servers, the obligation may transfer to the provider of liquor.
2. Change the venue- for example, the focus can be on a sporting event, where employees pay for their own liquor or suggest a get together over a charitable event like volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
3. Have a drink limit or alcohol free event. When behavior is not affected by alcohol, chances are that employees will be more in control and calmer. Alcohol can contribute to inappropriate behavior such as sexual advances, harassment, property damage, off color comments, and injuries. In addition, there is always the concern that people will leave the party and drive while intoxicated.
4. Be clear with your employees before the event and throughout the year about your expectations and company policies. Be sure they are aware of your substance abuse policy (if you have one) and that the policy includes office social events. Post the policy on company bulletin boards and send out an email reminder.
5. Host a family friendly event. Invite spouses and children and the focus can shift away from sitting and drinking to a more activity oriented function. Employees often really appreciate having their families included in company festivities.
6. Intervene when necessary. If your employee is intoxicated, let the person know they have had too much to drink, and that you will call a cab to take them home. Never let an employee who appears to be impaired, drive home.
7. You may want to check your business insurance policy if you plan to serve alcohol. If your general liability policy does not cover third part liquor liability, you may be able to purchase special event coverage.
What do you do if despite your best intentions, a problem occurs? If there are concerns about an employee's behavior, you may still be able to refer the individual to the Employee Assistance Program for a performance issue. If there have been allegations by others of harassment, inappropriate behavior or other issues, the EAP may be able to help. Even though you have hosted a social event, employees should still be expected to behave appropriately.