Ask the legal expert: limiting liability at the company Christmas party

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Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP

We are planning our annual holiday party. Should we have any concerns?

Yes. If you are serving alcohol, there are particular concerns. First, we recommend that you hold the holiday party off-premise and not at the long-term care facility. When the facility purchases and provides alcohol on-site, it is then exposed to liabilities as a quasi-liquor establishment.

Second, serving alcohol exposes the facility to liability for any damages or injuries that may befall either an employee or a third party. Hold the party after working hours and remind employees that they are invited but not required to attend.

Limit the amount of time that alcohol is served, offer designated driver services and consider inviting spouses and family members to the party. All of these practices tend to encourage a tone of moderation.You may even consider issuing a pre-party memorandum reminding employees that acceptable behavior is expected and, in particular, behavior that does not violate the company's harassment policy.

Unfortunately, more than a fair share of sexual harassment claims arise from company-sponsored parties and the facility can be held liable, even for those parties held off-site.

If your party is on-site, consider a lunch or tea that does not involve alcohol. You will not expose residents to your employees' potentially less than professional behavior, and you will not expose residents to possible injury or damages because of an employee's careless actions.  That said, parties are a way to celebrate employees' hard work. By following these guidelines, a good time can be had by all and the facility can avoid a morning-after “corporate hangover.”
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