Holiday Parties are Fun, but . . .

people holding champagne glasses


We always look forward to the holidays when we can look back at the spot we were, where we hope to spend another year celebrating it. Holiday parties at work are a great way to boost morale and toast each other’s good health. Not to put a damper on them, parties can also present some risks if not planned for.

Laws vary widely from state to state. In some states, “social hosts” have little liability. Certain limitations on liability for accidents on the premises of the venue, while other limitations on the liability of the host for off-site injuries.

Society in general, however, has become less tolerant of alcohol abuse, so for businesses that hold office parties, it is critical to make sure employees are capable of driving safely when they leave.

Liquor liability for a business is most likely covered by a commercial general liability (CGL) policy, however, if you’re not sure, check with your agent or broker. What may not be covered are incidents in which an employee becomes intoxicated and assaults another employee at the party.

In that case, an Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) policy may be a wise investment. In addition to protecting a business from discrimination, sexual harassment, emotional distress, and other workplace-related issues, an EPLI policy can also include “third-party” coverage (claims made by non-employees, usually clients or customers).

If you plan to host a holiday party at which you will be serving alcohol, the Insurance Information Institute offers the following tips to prevent a lawsuit:

• Advise employees to be responsible.

Include statement on an invite by the group and/or give written message to all concerned that they have moderate drinking obligations and avoid driving after drinking.

• Emphasize to management that they must lead by example.
• Hold the party at an offsite location.

If problems do arise, it is better that they occur away from the business premises. Depending on the state, the liability will generally be on the restaurant than the company. However, it is not unusual for an employer to be named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit. If an intoxicated employee leaves any company-sponsored event and injures himself or herself or another person as a result.

• Do not pay for alcoholic drinks. Guests will drink less if they have to pay for the drinks themselves.
Try drink voucher system to limit the number of drinks you sell if you think you have to supply alcoholic drinks. Or, serve alcohol for only a short period.
• Consider hiring a professional bartender. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and will limit consumption by partygoers.
• Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. It is proven that food can help counter the effects of alcohol.

Don’t serve minors with alcohol.
Stop drinking alcohol and turn to coffee, tea and soft drinks towards the end of the evening.
Arrange alternative movement.

Ensure that all workers and guests have alternative transport and plan special transport before the event. Encourage all employees and guests to make use of alternative transportation if they consume any alcohol.

By all means, enjoy this holiday season, including an office party with your colleagues, clients, and friends. Just do it safely.

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