Advice for keeping employee holiday parties lawsuit-free

Posted on December 13, 2013 by Rick Rossignol

With Christmas and New Year’s approaching, companies often treat their employees to parties to celebrate the holidays and honor employees’ hard work during the past year; however, no one wants these parties to turn into a human resources nightmare.
“Plan your party carefully and have a committee develop the plans,” said Rick Rossignol, CEO of RTR CONSULTING The Human Resource Experts. “I highly recommend not serving any alcohol. No one wants to be the Grinch, but limiting alcohol is a very good idea.”
The 20-year human resource expert suggests using drink tickets for all drinks, hosting the event at a restaurant or hotel and hiring professional bartenders and servers.
If alcohol is served, Rossignol recommends giving employees taxi vouchers or booking hotel rooms for those who are too inebriated to safely drive themselves home. Assigning a monitor also helps.
“Even though your company party may not occur during working hours or at your workplace, liability is still there,” Rossignol said, referencing a recent court case involving the Marriott.
A Marriott employee who left the company party, struck another vehicle and killed the driver was sentenced to six years in prison. The deceased’s family sued Marriott, and the courts ruled that an employer may be found liable for its employee’s offences as long as the proximate cause of the injury (here, alcohol consumption) occurred within the scope of employment. Since the company party was an annual event, the court considered it within the scope of employment. According to the court, it was irrelevant that the employee’s negligence was the cause of the death.
Sexual harassment at Christmas parties can also lead to law suits. Thirty-six percent of U.S. employers report worker misconduct at holiday parties. This misconduct includes excessive drinking, sexual advances, off-color jokes, vulgar language, arguments and fistfights.
Rossignol suggests companies send employees an email reminding them they are accountable for their actions.
“Invite spouses and significant others to the party,” Rossignol said. “It reminds people to behave themselves. It is imperative to remind employees that the company rules still apply — this means appropriate dress and appropriate conduct.
“Even with these safety precautions, you can still use this opportunity to show your appreciation and reflect on the success and contributions of your employees,” he said.
RTR CONSULTING The Human Resource Experts is a human resources consulting company with more than 20 years of experience. The firm helps small, start-up and medium-sized businesses develop effective and efficient human resource policies, procedures and best practices. In addition, RTR CONSULTING works to help their clients build and align their human resources strategies, retain the best talent and lower their employment costs. Its three programs are Outsourced Human Resources Retained Partnership, Human Resources Helpline and Human Resources Projects. For more information, call 805-493-2136 or visit

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