Throwing an Office Christmas Party? Keep It Free of Mishaps and Lawsuits

Companies that find themselves linked to bad holiday parties

If you haven't given it much thought, there's a world of wrong that can happen when you throw an ill-conceived party. Here are examples of lawsuits that have occurred in the past over the consequences of such parties.

In Harris v Trojan Fireworks, an employee was killed when he drove home drunk. The company was sued for liability. In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment, a director of the company assaulted a manager. The company was sued. In Brennan v Townsend & O'Leary Enterprises, a company staff member dressed up as Santa misbehaved with female colleagues. It resulted in a long-running lawsuit. Lawsuits have also resulted from food poisoning due to bad food served in the parties.

It's important to take adequate levels of precaution. There's not much that you can do about these problems once they occur. The idea is to plan ahead, and head off all such possibilities.

Think about the invitation

If you call it a Christmas party, you give the party religious overtones. This means that you shouldn't require that everyone should attend. If someone doesn't want to, because they do not believe in Christianity, they should be free to stay away.

If it's a late party, or an hour that keeps some staff members away from important family obligations, don't make them come. If attendees are supposed to bring Secret Santa gifts, specify in the invitation that the gifts must not be offensive. There have been lawsuits over inappropriate gifts in the past.

Plan the festivities

If you are having staff members decorate the office themselves, make sure that everyone observes safety precautions. For instance, everyone should be safe as they climb ladders or stools, and tinsel should not be allowed near heat sources. If you are putting up balloons, they should be the kind that do not cause deadly latex allergies. Make sure that all food served is very fresh and there is no risk of food poisoning. Avoid all indoor fireworks.

Free liquor

Free, limitless liquor can be the subject of unending lawsuits, and it should be treated with seriousness. Not only should there be someone making sure that there is no liquor served to underage drinkers, no one should be allowed to drink too much. Issuing strict drink limit policies is a good idea. Placing high definition video surveillance cameras all over the party area can be quite helpful. You should inform everyone about the presence of such cameras.

Talk about sexual harassment

One study in Britain found that about one in seven women launched formal complaints if they were harassed by someone under mistletoe at a party. Other societies tend to be more litigious. It would be a good idea to issue detailed guidelines about sexual harassment, and to ban mistletoe altogether.

Have transportation ready

Your partygoers can get too drunk to legally drive even when you have strict drink limit guidelines in place. Make sure that no one drives home drunk, even if it means having to take responsibility for all the transportation needed. It would be a good idea to put it on the invitation that the company takes care of the transportation.

It's important to take holiday parties seriously. One of the best ways possible to prevent poor outcomes is to encourage everyone to bring their families. People rarely behave badly in front of loved ones. Such a party may cost more to throw, but it could be a happier one.