Risks of Holiday Work Parties in California

Hosting a holiday work party may improve workplace culture and boost morale around the office, but it could also lead to personal injuries and company liability if an employer is not careful. The atmosphere at a holiday work party can be conducive to potential issues such as employee intoxication and sexual assault. An employer that hosts a holiday work party in California must be proactive about preventing these risks for the safety of its employees and the good of the company. If you have been sexually harassed in a workplace environment, talk to a Los Angeles employment attorney to learn about your options.

Sexual Harassment

A holiday work party has a different atmosphere than an average day in the office. Employees generally relax, lower their inhibitions, and say or do things they would not during a workday. This is not, however, an excuse for sexual harassment, crude jokes or sexual assault. A workplace holiday party should still be in keeping with state and federal sexual harassment laws. That means no inappropriate touching, invasions of personal space, requests for sexual favors, sexual jokes, discrimination based on sex or anything that meets the definition of sexual assault.

Workplace sexual harassment laws still apply during holiday work parties. Employees retain the right to be free from sexual harassment, discrimination and hostile environments. Employees may report incidents to the Human Resources department, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the police without fear of retaliation from the employer. Employees may also file lawsuits against an employer for allowing sexual harassment to occur while at a work-related event. An employer can mitigate this risk by clearly stating that all sexual harassment rules and protocols will still apply to holiday parties.

Intoxication

Employees over-imbibing is a common risk at a holiday work party. Too much alcohol can lead to issues such as fall accidents, alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, sexual harassment and fights. Employers should either ban alcohol from the work party or circulate notices before the party reminding guests to drink responsibly and arrange sober rides home. Some employers schedule taxi or bus services for this purpose.

Alcoholic beverages should be for-purchase only, not for free. If the employer wishes to offer some complimentary drinks, he or she should give a limited number of drink tickets per employee. Any party that serves alcohol should also have food to help counter the effects of alcohol. The employer should put a cut-off time on alcoholic drinks toward the end of the night and switch to nonalcoholic beverages. The employer should have regulations in place that prevent the serving of alcohol to minors.

Work-Related Injuries

An employee does not have to be on the clock to qualify for workers’ compensation after an accident. If the employee was at a mandatory work event, such as a holiday party that was not optional to attend, workers’ compensation will generally apply. An employer can help reduce liability for holiday party injuries by making attendance optional. Hosting someplace away from the workplace can also help reduce liability by giving another property owner responsibility for premises safety, such as a hotel or restaurant. Otherwise, the company could be responsible for employee injuries at a holiday party if it failed to maintain a safe premises.

Even if an employer is not legally accountable for a holiday work party injury in California, it could negatively impact the company if someone gets hurt at the event. An injured employee means lost productivity for the company for every day the employee needs off for treatment and rehabilitation. It could also hurt the company’s reputation if someone suffers a serious injury at a holiday party. Employers should do their best to keep company parties risk-free by choosing safe environments and inspecting for property defects before the event.