How to keep your holiday party legally compliant—and fun

To make sure the holiday season remains the most wonderful time of the year, it’s key to remember that you may be liable when throwing an office party.
By: | December 12, 2019 • 2 min read

The holiday season is fast approaching, and that means it’s almost time for the annual office party: a time of cheer, of celebration and … of possible legal pitfalls. Taking a few proactive steps can go a long way in making sure your holiday party stays joyful for everyone.

Before the Party Starts

Deliver sexual-harassment training in the weeks leading up to the party to make sure everyone understands what constitutes harassment, especially if the rules have been updated or changed. Harassment of any kind should never be tolerated in the workplace, and comprehensive policies and training can help prevent uncomfortable, and potentially risky, situations. A festive atmosphere can belie the fact that an office party is a company function, and anti-harassment guidelines still apply. To help protect your organization from legal liability, have people sign an acknowledgment stating they received and understood the training.

Related: Job seekers weigh in on harassment, bullying

During the Party

It’s a good idea to hire a bartender to serve any alcohol during the event. Having a bartender who is trained to spot intoxicated partygoers, and limit their drinks, helps prevent overserving. Depending on the state you live in, you could be liable for the actions of an overserved person after they leave your party, so having someone trained to recognize the warning signs is key to keeping everyone safe. The bartender can also make “mocktails” for anyone who chooses not to drink, which keeps the atmosphere fun and inclusive.

If a bartender is not an option, you can hand out a limited number of drink tickets to anyone planning to drink, helping ensure that no one goes beyond their limit.

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Another check against overindulging is to have plenty of snacks and other food close by, to slow the pace at which people drink. Finally, be sure to have plenty of water or other non-alcoholic beverages on hand, giving employees an easy and quick option to switch to after a few cocktails.

After the Party

To give your employees every option to avoid drinking and driving, and keep them and others on the road safe, consider handing out transportation vouchers or discounts. There are many alternatives available, from offering shuttles or taxis to providing rideshare (Lyft and Uber) codes to partygoers. It may even be worth discouraging driving to the event altogether.

See also: Here’s how to avoid legal pitfalls

To make sure the holiday season remains the most wonderful time of the year, it’s key to remember that you may be liable for when throwing an office party. Take care to prevent problematic situations and close out the year with a fun, safe occasion for everyone.

Chas Rampenthal is general counsel at LegalZoom