‘Tis the season of busy schedules filled with family events and holiday gatherings and fun office Christmas parties! If you haven’t already, you’re probably planning an office Christmas party to show your appreciation for all of your staff’s hard work this year!
An office Christmas party is a great way for you to connect with your employees and for everyone to relax and have fun outside of the office. While it is usually a great time, there are some simple precautions that you, as a business owner, should take to ensure a safe gathering for everyone that is free from any unwanted holiday party liabilities.
Top 5 Tips to Limit Office Christmas Party Liability:
- Make it known that your gathering is voluntary.
- Hold your party outside of normal business hours to prevent wage and hour claims by non-exempt employees.
- Have your gathering somewhere other than the office.
- Do not discuss work related issues during your gathering, or give anyone a task to complete to avoid the employee feeling that they are working and therefore should be compensated.
- Offer plenty of non-alcoholic drink options so employees do not feel pressured to consume alcohol, or use drink tickets to avoid excessive drinking.
What is the importance of these precautions?
In regards to Alcohol: If you choose to serve alcohol at a holiday function, be sure to do so responsibly. Keep in mind that as an employer you may be liable for injuries or conduct that occur due to over-consumption at the Christmas party.
Typically under Wisconsin’s liquor-provider immunity statute, a person, including a corporate entity, is immune from civil liability arising out of an act of dispensing or giving away alcohol beverages to another person. But this immunity does not apply when consumption of the alcoholic beverages is forced, or if the employer represents that the beverage contains no alcohol.
This immunity also does not apply in some cases when alcoholic beverages are given to a minor. Employers who knew, or should know, that an employee is under the legal drinking age can be liable for injuries caused by an underage employee.
An employer may also be liable for the injuries to a third-party if one of its employees agrees, but then fails, to drive an intoxicated colleague home and the intoxicated employee drives himself or herself home and causes an accident.
This liability typically occurs when it can be shown that the employee who agreed to drive an intoxicated colleague home would have been acting through the scope of his or her employment. The scope of employment, however, is not limited to activities on the employer’s premises or during normal work hours, or even in furtherance of the employer’s commercial endeavors.
Voluntary Attendance: Hosting the party outside of normal business hours, not at the office, and stressing the fact that it is not mandatory helps to prevent wage and hour claims by non-exempt employees. Also be sure to avoid discussing work during the function, or asking an employee to perform a special task for the party. By avoiding these few things your employees will understand that the gathering is for fun, and is not to be considered billable work.
In one Wisconsin case, the court found that because an employee was not required to attend an office Christmas party, among other reasons, he was not acting within the scope of his employment when driving home intoxicated after an office Christmas party such that the employer could be liable for the accident and resulting injuries to a third-party!
While this list is not exhaustive, it should provide a few simple tips to follow when planning and throwing your office Christmas party to limit your holiday party liability. Should you have any additional questions, contact an attorney at Gerbers Law. Happy Holidays!