Guidelines for safely hosting the company holiday party

Detroit-based management side labor and employment law firm Nemeth Law PC urges employers to revisit their holiday party plans to ensure employees stay safe--and employers avoid legal trouble. After counseling clients for years about holiday parties, Nemeth Law PC President Patricia Nemeth says there are five guidelines employers should follow to host a celebratory yet safe holiday gathering, with or without alcohol. 1. Schedule the party for a reasonable number of hours and have the party start and end earlier in the evening, for example, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., to avoid employees over indulging at a late night party. 2. When serving alcohol, consider using drink tickets to contain alcohol consumption; use different color tickets for non-alcoholic drinks so non-drinkers don't offer their tickets to their colleagues. Also make sure plenty of food is being served as well so employees are not consuming alcohol on an empty stomach. 3. Arrange for transportation in advance in case there are employees who may need a ride home at the last minute. 4. Host the party at an off-site location so if the need arises, a third party bartender can handle the uncomfortable duty of cutting off any employees who have over- indulged. 5. Consider hosting a breakfast/lunch holiday party on the day the office is scheduled to close early. Employees will appreciate getting to leave earlier in the day and the timing eliminates the problems that can arise when alcohol is being served (see #2-4). If a problem does arise in connection with a holiday party, whether from a traffic accident resulting from excessive drinking at the party, an accident en route to or from the party, or claims of sexual harassment against a peer or supervisor at the party, is the employer liable? Yes and no, says Nemeth. "Generally speaking, an employer is not responsible when an employee injures himself or others when acting outside the scope of employment. However, Michigan courts have left open the possibility that under certain circumstances, the employer may be at fault," said Nemeth. "Classic cases that might end up resulting in liability may occur when the employer acts as host, continues to serve alcohol to a visibly drunk employee, and then does nothing to stop that employee from driving. Or, when an employee is required to attend a social event in order to entertain clients or colleagues and is somehow injured during the course of that event. As employees relax and imbibe, they become more casual in their speech and conduct. Unfortunately, these behaviors can, at times, cross the line." So how does an employment law firm celebrate the holidays? After years of off-site parties at activity focused venues, Nemeth Law is trying something new this year with the 12 Days of Nemeth Law Holiday Cheer. Interspersed from Dec. 2 through Dec. 24 the attorneys and staff will enjoy the following activities and perks to celebrate the holidays: * Pot-luck lunch. * Story-telling contest where employees will share true stories and the audience will vote for the best story-teller. * Give-back day that encourages Nemeth Law employees to support a charity and give back to the community. This year Nemeth Law is supporting Vista Maria, a non-profit that works to heal Michigan's victimized girls and women with best-practice treatment programs designed to meet their unique needs while serving other vulnerable children and families within southeast Michigan. * Ping-Pong tournament. * Ugly holiday sweater contest. * Cookie bake-off contest. * Breakfast on the run where employees can grab a quick breakfast before starting their day. * Holiday stress relief day complete with 10-minute chair massages by professional massage therapists. * White elephant gift exchange. * Last minute shopping: Nemeth Law PC office closes two hours early! * Pizza party. * Office closes at noon on Christmas Eve. None of the activities include alcohol, although Nemeth says that's a coincidence. "Our night time holiday gatherings have included alcohol in the past, but this year's events are all held during the work day, or involve time off for staff to tend to holiday preparations, so alcohol was never an issue in the planning process," said Nemeth. "It will be interesting to get employee feedback in comparing this season's series of events with our previous parties." Published: Mon, Nov 18, 2013

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