During the holiday season, many companies hold parties for their employees. Unfortunately, human resources problems and employer liabilities can be unintended consequences of company parties. Trying to minimize the risks is an essential part of party planning.

Party clothes and dancing, games, and contests can lead to inappropriate conduct. It can be made worse still by alcohol, which impairs judgment. Indeed, partying with alcohol has led more than once to employer liability for sexual harassment. Employers also have been held liable to third-parties for property damage and wrongful death due to inebriated employees driving home from company-sponsored events.

To reduce the risk of liability, employers should consider taking the following 10 steps:

  • Prepare and disseminate a strong policy prohibiting sexual harassment at work and at employer-sponsored events, such as parties, picnics, and conventions.
  • Prior to the event, remind employees that company standards of conduct and anti-harassment policies remain in full force and effect even at company social events.
  • Remind managers of their responsibility for enforcing company policies during the party even when it takes place after work and off premises.
  • Consider distributing drink tickets to limit individuals’ alcohol consumption.
  • Hire a professional bartender who will pour drinks and cut off anyone who has had enough alcohol.
  • Provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Arrange for designated drivers and company-paid taxis.
  • Make sure that alcohol service ends well before the party officially ends.
  • Consider having the party during the day time or as a family event to limit the consumption of alcohol (e.g., spouses may be more likely to monitor the employee’s drinking or act as the designated driver).
  • Act appropriately and swiftly if a complaint is made.

Taking these and other precautions can go a long way toward limiting problems, risks and liabilities.