Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Make your Holiday Parties Fun, and Lawsuit Free

     This is the biggest season for parties and the one that the most lawsuits arise from.   I ran across an article this morning in "Law 360" that offers some pretty good ideas for preventing your holiday fun from turning into legal grief.  Below is an abbreviated portion of the article.

     Here are five tips that employment attorneys say can help keep a lawsuit from crashing your soiree. 

Keep Alcohol Consumption Down 

     Most of the legal problems that come out of holiday parties start when an employee has had one too many, lawyers say. 

     The most cautious employers will choose to cut alcohol out of their holiday bashes entirely, but those that do choose to make booze available during their parties should take precautions to cut down on their legal risks. 

     An open bar can spell disaster, so lawyers recommend setting up a cash bar or giving employees a limited number of drink tickets.
Pick the Right Time and Location 
     The time and place of the party will go a long way toward setting the tone, and attorneys say picking the right ones can help cut back on excessive drinking and other inappropriate behaviors. 
     A daytime event is far less likely to be perceived as a bacchanalia where employees are free to lose control. 
     "One thing employers can do is have an afternoon event rather than an evening event," Billows said. "It can help with overindulgence and help keep concerns about behavior in check." 
     "The time of the week can also make a difference," she said, explaining that parties on weekdays are likely to get less rowdy than weekend events. "It can have an affect when people know they have to work the next day."
Don't Make it Mandatory 
     While an employer might want everyone to join in on the fun, it's important to make attendance totally voluntary, lawyers say. 
     Making attendance mandatory sets the employer up for a host of potential legal pitfalls, from wage-and-hour questions to workers' compensation issues if an employee gets hurt at the party.
Ask Managers to Watch for Trouble 
     No one wants to be the party police, but in order to head off potential problems before they boil over into lawsuit fodder, it's best to designate some managers to monitor behavior, lawyers say.  
     "As a preventive thing, I would say have some managers or supervisors who are going to be at the party that you have talked to in advance and said, 'Hey, if you see something inappropriate we would like you to speak up,'" Michael Kramer of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC said.  
     These managers should be briefed in advance on steering employees away from situations that could be construed as harassment or from exchanges that look like they are becoming too heated.
Remind Employees that Workplace Rules Still Apply 
     Attorneys say that even though no employer wants to feel like a Grinch, it is worth reminding your employees that even at a party, professional standards apply. 
     Employees should be told that the company's anti-harassment policies, dress code and conduct rules will all be in effect during the shindig, lawyers say. 
     "One thing the employer can do is send an email around in advance of the party encouraging people to have a good time but also reminding people of the company harassment policy," Kramer said. 
     "I would say something like: Have a great time and enjoy each others' company, but let's avoid any career-altering behavior," he said. "To me, that's being a little humorous and not too heavy handed, but it is a subtle reminder that if you screw this up, you may not be working here any more."
     These are some really good ideas if you are going to throw a company or even a private party during the up and coming holiday season.  I really do not want to loose any of my readers to over use of alcohol or worse yet bad decisions.   ;o)