Business risk management: How to keep holiday parties risk free

Published on Wed, 12/17/2014 - 17:33

Tis the season to be merry once again. With another holiday season in full swing, many businesses are throwing the traditional company party. It’s a chance to show your employees how much you appreciate them throughout the year, and show them that you’re really not such a Scrooge after all!

But we all know there are plenty of risks that can quickly spoil the festivities.

Throwing a company party is a little like walking a tightrope. There are a host of risks, and one misstep can have costly and lasting consequences. Here are some of the biggest potential risks to watch for:

  • Alcohol liabilities. Potential liquor law liabilities are the number one business risk with holiday parties. If someone is served alcohol at your company party and then gets injured – or injures someone else – in an accident, you could be facing costly medical bills, vehicle repairs, wrongful death claims, and other liabilities.
  • Discrimination/harassment. Holiday parties often set the stage for fights between colleagues and sexual harassment. Make sure your employees understand that the holiday party is a work-related activity and the rules for appropriate behavior still apply. It’s probably also a good idea to skip the mistletoe!
  • Catering catastrophes. According to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, every year nearly 48 million Americans develop a foodborne illness. Those decadent party buffets are the perfect opportunity for contamination. Hire caterers carefully, and be diligent about checking the food for anything that looks undercooked or spoiled.
  • Slip-and-fall accidents. Make sure driveways, sidewalks, and steps at your party location are cleared of ice and snow, and don’t forget to provide a place inside for guests to dry their shoes to avoid slippery floors.
  • Here are a few more tips to keep your festivities merry:
  • Keep attendance voluntary. You don’t want any employees who are uncomfortable joining the festivities on religious or other grounds to feel obliged to attend. Required attendance could also expose you to a host of FLSA and state claims.
  • Require behavior appropriate to the guest list. Will spouses and kids be at your holiday party? How about clients or prospects? If so, don’t forget that these people will be seeing your employees with their hair let down a little. Let everyone know who’s on the guest list and what behavior is expected.
  • Keep it PC. To avoid offending anyone, refer to your festivities simply as a “holiday party” or “the office party.” Avoid using any decorations with religious themes or messages. Be sure to keep any entertainment professional and non-controversial.
  • Be careful with alcohol. If alcohol is served, consider hiring a professional bartender, using a drink ticket system, or ending service early. Provide non-alcoholic beverages, and arrange for company-paid transportation for those who can’t safely drive home. Taxi-fare is a lot cheaper than a lawsuit.
  • Don’t forget about COBRA. Make sure your COBRA-eligible employees know that if they should be terminated for misconduct at a holiday party, they’ll probably lose their eligibility.
  • Keep the holidays happy. The office holiday party is one of the biggest risks many companies take. Even some of the most careful companies seem to throw caution to the wind when it comes to their office parties. Don’t make that mistake this holiday season.

For more advice on how to keep your business safe and sound this holiday season and all year round, see the business insurance experts at Heffernan Insurance Brokers.