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Keeping it Safe and Limiting Liability during the Holidays

With year-end festivities about to begin, you should include safety into your holiday plans, be that if you are simply decorating the office or throwing a party for your staff.

Since the holiday season or your party is only once a year, it’s easy to overlook safety even though you already incorporate it into the other aspects of your operations.

While you obviously want your staff to relax and have fun at your holiday party, you also want to make sure they get home safely and that nobody gets hurt or sick at your party. This takes planning and consideration.

Some of your safety priorities should be:

  • Liquor consumption,
  • Safety on the premises of your party, and
  • Food-borne illnesses.


Due to their infrequent nature, the liability risks of company-sponsored holiday events are often overlooked. To ensure the health and well-being of all who attend, it is important to be aware of any potential liability concerns that your company may face if the event doesn’t go exactly as planned.



While you want your staff to enjoy themselves, safety should still be your top priority during the holidays.

Keep in mind that if someone trips and injures themselves on an extension cord for your holiday lighting or other decorations, it would be considered work-related and could possibly be subject to workers’ compensation. The same may hold true for injuries sustained at work parties. Consider the following:

  • If you are holding a party outside your premises, you need to inspect the venue first to make sure it meets your safety standards. Some things to keep an eye out for are exits, emergency lighting, and flooring that might prevent slips and falls, particularly if there is a chance of bad weather.
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast and whether storms are looming on the date of your party. Consider the effects that weather may have on safe travel to and from the event. You may need to make special plans to keep sidewalks and parking lots clear if the event is outside of normal business hours.
  • If you are in an unfamiliar area, do you need security? It’s something to consider.
  • Keep an eye on party-goers to ensure that no one wanders off or goes to their car alone after dark.
  • Prepare an emergency plan in case someone is injured or needs medical assistance. Know where the closest hospital is and if anyone knows how to use a defibrillator or can perform CPR.
  • Do you have employees with disabilities who have special needs? Wheelchair-bound employees should be able to get in and out of any venue you choose.


Other liability issues

Other issues to consider:

  • Applying your workplace policies on behavior, including those on violence, harassment, discrimination and the general code of conduct, even if you’ve chosen a venue other than your workplace. Prior to the event, let employees know the standards to which they will be held.
  • Making sure your staff know that the event is optional and it won’t reflect poorly on their performance evaluation, advancement potential or job security if they don’t’ attend. All invitations and announcements should emphasize this point.
  • Making sure that the party is not tied to any specific religious tradition and is referred to as a “holiday party.”
  • Monitoring employees’ behavior to ensure that it conforms to company policies. Take prompt action if any activity or behavior exceeds acceptable bounds. For instance, if someone is getting too friendly, carrying mistletoe and asking for kisses from others, you should pull the person aside and discreetly manage the incident before it becomes a bigger issue.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption, which can help avoid impaired decision making and a lowering of inhibitions that can lead to poor behavior.
  • Avoiding activities or items such as mistletoe, a game of Twister, or inappropriate music that could lead to physical contact, unwanted social pressure or inappropriate conversation.
  • Taking complaints that stem from the party seriously. As you would with any other incident, document, investigate and take appropriate action.



Some companies have recognized the liability exposure that alcohol represents and have chosen to hold holiday events free of beer, wine or liquor. If it is to be served, there are some important considerations that can help to limit potential problems:

  • Hold the event at an off-site location and hire professional bartenders who have their own insurance and are certified for alcohol service. Speak with the vendor to determine what protocols it uses to keep from serving minors and others who are visibly intoxicated.
  • Make sure there is an array of choices of non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Don’t have an open bar. Instead, hand out drink tickets to control consumption.
  • Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the event ends.
  • Keep lots of starchy and high-protein snacks for the party-goers to munch on to slow absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  • Give a supervisor or manager the authority to cut off the serving of alcohol to anyone who is intoxicated.
  • Provide alternative transportation, which may include free cab rides.


A word about insurance

Make sure that any vendors you use carry insurance. Insist on seeing the certificates of insurance with sufficient coverage and liability limits for:

  • Catering firms,
  • Bartending firms,
  • Facilities, or
  • Entertainers.


When reviewing rental contracts, be sure to note whether any hold harmless or indemnity agreements that could release the vendor from liability and instead hold your company responsible for losses from situations over which you have no control.

Also, talk to us to make sure that your own insurance policies cover any mishaps that may occur at your company event.

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