At this time of year, many employers host holiday parties. As we have in the past, we would like to review ways that employers can minimize the potential risks associated with such events. Employees and/or third parties may assert claims based on injuries suffered during or after the event. These injury claims often involve the excessive use of alcohol by an employee or a third-party and often also include assertions of sexual harassment.
In Illinois, it is fairly well established that employees who are injured at, or coming to, or from, a company-sponsored event or outing where the employer sponsored, arranged, and wholly financed the outing are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for their injuries. With respect to third-party claims, whether under the common law or the Dram Shop Act, the Illinois courts have refused to impose liability on employers who supply alcohol to employees, including at a company party.
Nevertheless, because employers obviously want to avoid claims asserted by employees and/or third parties following a company sponsored event, employers should (1) not make attendance at company sponsored events mandatory, (2) control the list of attendees, (3) consider not serving alcohol or limiting the amount of time in which it will be served, (4) make transportation arrangements for those potentially impaired, and (5) remind employees that all company employee handbooks and policies continue to apply to the event, including any harassment provision.