We’ve all seen at least one company party portrayed on TV as an event with binge drinking, drug use, and overt sexual harassment. In the past, this portrayal wouldn’t have been far from the truth, but today companies are much more liability conscious, wanting to avoid getting sued for the misadventures of their employees.
Companies wanting to host holiday parties are often advised by their lawyers to hold such events at restaurants and other public venues that serve alcohol. This limits the company’s liability due to the social liability or Dram shop laws in most States that hold the provider of alcohol liable for injuries caused or suffered by an intoxicated customer. Legally sophisticated companies will also take the following steps to prevent incidents that put them at legal risk:
- Reminding their employees of company policies regarding sexual harassment and its consequences.
- Limiting alcohol consumption by providing a limited number of drink tickets, or only allowing alcohol consumption during the first hour of the event.
- Providing alternative transportation to and from the event.
- Making the event voluntary, and refraining from engaging in any work-related activities (speeches, award ceremonies, distributing bonuses or company gifts).
But many small companies and startups may not have such legal sophistication. Here are three warning signs of such naiveté:
- The company requests a Hosted or an Open Bar with no limitation on hours.
- They ask for audio-visual equipment for speeches and presentations, or they inform you they will bring their own.
- They are reluctant to tell you if there will be minors attending the event.
For the restaurateur, this presents an opportunity, in the spirit of customer and community service, to provide the company with advice that will limit both their and your legal liability, as well as ensuring that employee behavior is maintained within legal, ethical, and moral boundaries. To do this, request one or more sit-down conversations with a company who wants to host their holiday party at your facility and cover these topics:
- Discuss the legal prohibitions against serving intoxicated guests and minors. Inform them that you will card anyone who may be underage, and will politely refuse to serve anyone who appears to be intoxicated.
- Inform them that you are proud that your establishment values the safety and security of its clientele and does not tolerate any form of harassment or intimidation. Guests exhibiting such behavior will be asked politely, but firmly, to leave the premises.
- Go over the four bullet points above that outline the steps companies take to limit their liability at such events. (You can also suggest that they Google “Holiday Party Liability Prevention Checklist” for such information.)
- If the company does not plan to provide alternative transportation, discuss with them how they want to handle any guests who are too intoxicated to drive home.
After this conversation, most companies will thank you for your concern and professionalism. We all want our holidays to be a safe and happy time. With these tips, you can limit your liability for any incidents that may occur and provide a safe place for companies to hold holiday parties.