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Avoiding some legal pitfalls of office holiday parties: Part II


Earlier this week, we wrote that many companies in Broward County and across Florida will be throwing holiday parties this month in order to thank their employees for a good year and allow everyone a chance to mix more casually.

But without careful planning and execution, office holiday parties can create a potential legal mess for both employers and employees. Our posts this week focus on just a few potential issues, including religious discrimination, sexual harassment and problems associated with serving or consuming too much alcohol.

Alcohol can be a great social lubricant, but everyone needs to practice moderation. Employers who serve free alcohol at the party would be wise to have some safeguards in place to keep employees from consuming too much. It may also be a good idea to make alternate transportation available for employees who end up drinking too much.

Both employers and employees need to be concerned about how alcohol affects individual behaviors. Holiday parties are notorious for sparking sexual harassment charges.

Caron Treatment Center conducted a study of adults who had gone to work-related outings where alcohol was provided. Employees were asked about behaviors that they witnessed. According to the study:

  • 30 percent witnessed flirting between co-workers
  • 26 percent reported hearing inappropriate comments and/or personal details from either a colleague or supervisor
  • 9 percent of study participants alleged that their supervisors or colleagues engaged in sexual activity after drinking alcohol

It is easy to see how alcohol-fueled revelry could lead to sexual harassment charges and other behaviors that would be deeply regrettable later. In order to avoid this mess, it is a good idea for employers to limit the serving of alcohol in some way. Conversely, employees should have their own plan in place to avoid drinking too much.

Holiday parties are a lot of fun. They allow us to see a more personal side of our colleagues. But we must all be careful not to let things get out of control. We still want to be able to get back to work after the weekend or break.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Planning Office Holiday Parties Without Lawsuits," Jonathan A. Segal, Nov. 15, 2011

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