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It’s the Holiday Season: Protecting Yourself at Your Firm’s Holiday Party

D Best-winning employment lawyer Rogge Dunn weighs in on how to prevent liabilities at your holiday celebration.

Attorney Rogge Dunn shares his legal tips for a safe, successful holiday party.

When I was a young lawyer in a mega-firm we used to say the firm’s holiday party could only hurt your career, it couldn’t help your career. That is still important advice.

The firm holiday party is not the time to show how witty you are, display your fancy moves on the dance floor or do tricks with spoons or plateware. The goal is to be affable, polite and charming in a reserved way. Think of your dress and demeanor at the firm holiday party as holding serve and not making any unforced errors. Consider it a political event that is being video taped and any false step by you could be reviewed and dissected by highly critical “Monday morning quarterbacks.”

Years ago drunkenness, risqué jokes and public displays of affection were usually tolerated and made for acceptable humorous watercooler chatter at work the following week.

No more. Given the #metoo movement–and an environment where everyone can videotape you on their phone–most companies have a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual innuendos, boorish acts and out of control behavior at holiday parties. Most companies do this as part of their corporate culture and code of conduct. In addition, firms have adopted a zero-tolerance policy because failure to do so can lead to sexual harassment and personal injury lawsuits.

How can a company avoid liability for its holiday party? Five simple policies can protect firms from liability arising out of a holiday party.

1. Limit the Impact of Alcohol

Laws in most states favor people injured by a driver who became impaired at a firm party. People injured by an overserved employee–or the spouse/guest of the employee–who caused a car wreck have won huge verdicts. In addition, even the employee who is inebriated or the occupants in their car have won verdicts against their employer.

One way to limit the impact of alcohol is to eliminate a “free pour” environment and give the employees a limited number of drink tickets. Use only professional bartenders who have received training from the state’s Beverage Commission.

2. Prohibit the Use of Drugs

Even in states where marijuana is legal, best practices is to prohibit use of any drugs at the holiday party.

3. Check Your Insurance

Be sure your insurance covers on-site and especially off-site holiday parties.

4. Manage Transportation

Require employees to use Lyft, UBER, etc. It reduces the risk of a third party being injured by someone who got drunk at the company party.

A company can soften the blow of this requirement by agreeing to reimburse employees’ UBER charges.

5. Keep the Environment and Location Professional

A luncheon instead of a dinner party or party at a nightclub promotes professional behavior and reduces the risk of employees becoming inebriated. And, employees tend to prefer an afternoon luncheon whereby they get to go home early, rather than having to make a special trip to the office, a restaurant or nightclub for the holiday party.

Following these simple practical tips can keep you and your company out of trouble while still partaking in the festivities of the season.

Connect with Rogge Dunn here.

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