It’s that time of the year again when many companies celebrate the upcoming holiday season by holding parties for their employees. While these events are intended as opportunities for staff to relax and enjoy themselves, they can be a hotbed of potential liability. Even if you host your holiday party off-site, the law may hold your business accountable should any incidents resembling workplace harassment occur.

There are many potential legal issues that may arise out of activities occurring at holiday parties. Here are several best practices that can help you stay out of trouble:

Keep company policies regarding conduct in effect: While you want your employees to enjoy themselves, remind them to act appropriately. If your employee handbook identifies certain inappropriate conduct, it shouldn’t be ignored at a holiday party. Anti-harassment policies and safety requirements should remain in effect, and you should require that your managers remain vigilant and address inappropriate conduct. You may wish to distribute a written statement to your employees reminding them to adhere to company policies while at the party and encourage them to incidences of harassment to the appropriate personnel.

What happens at the holiday party may not stay at the holiday party: You should be mindful that you employees will likely bring their smartphones or digital cameras to your holiday party. With a few clicks and within moments, something that occurs at your party may be uploaded to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or other social media websites and made available for the rest of the world to see. Images, videos or other recordings from your party may portray your staff and business in a negative light, alienate potential customers, or show conduct that violates state or federal law. Keep in mind that whatever you say or do, or whatever your employees may say or do, may end up online. If you do not have a written social media policy, you should develop one now. If you already have a written social media policy, or your employee handbook addresses social media use by employees, you will want to remind them that their conduct on social media will be governed by the same polices in effect at their workplace.

Watch alcohol consumption: For a host of reasons you should consider not serving alcohol at your party. Depending on the laws of your particular state, you may find yourself liable for actions of employees who are intoxicated at your holiday party and subsequently injured themselves or others. If you decide that you will make alcoholic beverages available to your employees, consider limiting the amount of drinks they may consume. You can use a ticket or voucher system to effectively curtail alcohol consumption, avoid open bars altogether, and have an early “last call.” Also encourage employees to utilize designated drivers or make taxi or shuttle service available at no charge so your employees can get home safely.

For help with this, or other employee issues, please give us a call at 516-873-3000.