With the holidays around the corner, many employers organize parties to promote collegial working relationships and foster a pleasant work environment. While the benefits of holiday parties on employee morale are tangible, they may also present legal risks for employers. The first-and perhaps most obvious-risk arises from alcohol consumption. Courts have not hesitated to find an employer liable for accidents caused by inebriated employees leaving a company function. The courts reason that the party is for the employer's benefit to raise morale and productivity and, therefore, that the employees' actions of drinking and driving are taken within the "course and scope of employment."
Another set of risks stems from anti-discrimination statutes. In a casual environment, fueled by alcohol and socialization, employees are more likely to engage in sexually harassing conduct or to make offensive comments based on protected characteristics like race, ethnicity or national origin.
Employers also need to be careful what they call their holiday parties and how they organize them. Some employees may view a party called a "Christmas Party" as a form of religious discrimination.
To minimize these risks and others, we recommend the following steps:
With these precautions, employers will have a stronger case should an employee on post-holiday haze choose to file a complaint. We wish you the best of luck and joy during this holiday season. If you have any questions about this post, please contact any of the attorneys in our Labor and Employment Department Group.