United States: Surviving The Holiday Party Season: An Employer's Quick Reference Guide

Last Updated: December 2 2016
Article by Sidney O. Minter

As 2016 winds down, we are entering into the prime season for holiday gatherings. Based on a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management, approximately 65% of employers plan to host a holiday or end-of-year party. Although these parties can be a lot of fun, they can be hotbeds for potential employer liability. So, what can you do to reduce the potential for mishaps?

There is no surefire way to eliminate legal exposure, but there are some proactive steps you can take to reduce their risk. Think of this article as a roadmap, so you can focus on what is really important: having fun and celebrating with your employees!

1. Serving Alcohol Is A Risk

People enjoy an occasional holiday alcoholic beverage – cocktails, beer, wine, eggnog, etc. Nevertheless, alcohol consumption adds another layer of complexity and potential risks for employers. Alcohol often causes people to "let their hair down," which can be bad news for the workplace. Letting one's hair down can (and often does) lead to harassment, inappropriate comments, and many other potentially illegal behaviors.

If you decide to serve alcohol, you should consider a few things. You should limit the amount of alcohol an employee can consume. This can be accomplished by using a ticket-system, restricting each employee to a certain number of drinks. You should not serve alcohol-based punch or eggnog, which makes it difficult for employees to tell how much liquor they are consuming.

You should hire professional bartenders to serve beverages. You should close down the bar at least one hour prior to the end of the event. You should also consider having a drawing for a prize or some other activity to encourage people to stick around during the last hour.

Finally, make sure you have non-alcoholic beverages available as an option for employees who choose not to drink, or realize they have had enough for one night.

2. Voluntary, Never Mandatory

If you decide to host a holiday party, attendance at the parties should be voluntary – not mandatory. The voluntary nature of the party should be explicitly stated, preferably in writing. You should not put pressure on employees to attend. When holiday parties are mandatory, employers face a greater risk of wage and hour and workers' compensation claims. Also, since this is a party, you should refrain from turning the event into a de facto meeting – leave the business component out of it.

3. This Is A (Work) Party

Holiday parties are often held offsite and after regular working hours. That is why it is critically important that employees must understand that work rules are still applicable. There are a few ways for you to relay this message to employees.

You can circulate a memo or email to all employees outlining the purpose of the event, its voluntary nature, and that professional behavior is mandatory. As an alternative, you might provide a refresher training session to all employees regarding discrimination, harassment, and other applicable company policies before the date of the event. This memo or training session will provide another reminder to employees of applicable policies. It should also add another level of insulation for you in the event of legal action. 

4. "Feed Me Seymour!"

You certainly do not want to serve alcohol to people on empty stomachs. So, once the decision is made to serve alcohol, you need to determine what kinds of food will be served. Serve foods that slow the absorption of alcohol, such as those high in protein or starch. Greasy or salty foods tend to encourage more alcohol consumption, so avoid them.

Also, some employees will have food preferences or allergies, some of which may be tied directly to a religious belief (Title VII), or a medical condition (Americans with Disabilities Act). Make sure you understand whether any accommodations are necessary by asking your guests ahead of time.

5. Adults Need Chaperones, Too

Alcohol + adults = a potentially combustible environment. People tend to be more open, honest, and potentially inappropriate when they consume alcohol. Sometimes people forget (at least temporarily) that they are married, or that they have a significant other.

For these reasons, it makes sense to encourage employees to bring their significant others to the event. The hope is that these guests will encourage employees to be on their best behavior, and will reel in their spouses or significant others should they drink too much of the party juice. 

You should also instruct some of your senior managers to refrain from drinking alcohol on the night of the event. Make sure at least one of them is stationed near the exit at the end of the party. This person will thank guests for coming to the event, but most importantly, make a final determination regarding whether employees are fit to drive themselves home.   

6. Uber. Lyft. Taxi. Private Drivers.

No matter how careful you handle serving alcohol, someone will consume too much at your party. That someone should not drive away from your party. What can you do to stay ahead of this potential problem? 

There's an easy answer: you should offer transportation from the event for your employees and guests. Some employers might get frustrated hearing this suggestion, figuring this is just another expense that will not be recouped. But, for at least two reasons, it is well worth the cost. First and foremost, it will enable you to protect your most important assets – your employees. The safety and wellbeing of your workers, their guests, and the general public should be on the forefront of your mind at all times. Second, it will provide another layer of insulation should any of your employees injure another person as a result of alcohol consumption. Many transportation companies offer group deals to defray the cost of this service.   

7. Social Media Could Make Your Party (In)Famous

We are living in an era where almost every person has a smartphone. Most people subscribe to some sort of social media platform. That said, there is a great chance that your company holiday party – in its entirety or in part – will be uploaded to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any number of social media platforms.

As an employer, this sounds pretty scary for a number of reasons. If you have any reservations about adopting any of the suggestions listed above, just imagine how embarrassing (or legally troublesome) it would be to have your party broadcast to the world or digitally preserved for all time.

8. Prompt Corrective Action

No matter how much you plan, bad things will happen. Sometimes an inebriated employee makes a racially, sexually or otherwise discriminatory comment, or does something that is generally unprofessional or inappropriate. Unfortunately, no matter how many steps you take to protect your interests, situations like this sometimes cannot be avoided.

Nevertheless, part of your obligation under Title VII is to make prompt corrective action in the event you become aware (directly or indirectly) of potentially troublesome behavior. You must ensure that management and executives attending these events are setting a good example. They also need to function as watchdogs on high alert for inappropriate behavior. The sooner this behavior is reported and investigated, the less likely you will face continuing legal exposure.

9. Mistle-no

Finally, what's the biggest mistake you can make? Hanging mistletoe! Do not use mistletoe as décor at your company party.   

This article has covered many tips for mitigating exposure in a holiday party setting. None of these tips will guarantee that you will avoid legal action. However, implementing some or all of the tips discussed should reduce your risk of legal exposure.

Keep these guidelines in mind, so you and your employees can focus on enjoying the event. Happy Holidays!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Sidney O. Minter
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions