Tips for keeping Everyone Safe and Out of Trouble During the Company Holiday Party
There is a reason why Saturday Night Live (SNL), The Office, and Office Christmas Party poke fun at office ‘Non-denominational Holiday Mixers.’ Feel free to watch any of these videos at your own risk to see what I mean. It is the corporate world’s attempt to be inclusive while employees cut loose in celebration for various reasons. Because each company’s culture is unique, there is no right way to do this. In this month’s blog, we give a few tips for the startup community to keep everyone safe and reduce risk.
Driving, Biking and Scooting Home
Making sure everyone gets home safely is by far the biggest concern executives should have when throwing a holiday party. The best tip here is to ask employees to use a ride share or take a taxi if they plan to consume alcohol. Some employers go to the extent of providing shuttles, ride share vouchers or by allowing employees to add rides to their expense reports. Scooters and electric bikes are the new craze, but keep in mind that it is illegal to ride them while intoxicated and dangerous to ride. Even if your employees have not had a drop to drink (and brought their helmet to the party), riding at night is not advised. Potholes, curbs and other crazies on the road can be just as hazardous. Encourage everyone to have a plan prior to the party to avoid any game time decisions. We want to see everyone get home safely this holiday season!
Alcohol and Liability
Alcohol is part of many cultures in the startup community. The two biggest tips from a risk management standpoint are to use 3rd party vendors that carry liquor liability insurance and to have TABC certified servers serving alcohol. Using vendors who are in the business of serving alcohol and are trained to identify when someone has been over served shifts the liability off of your company and places it primarily on them. Be sure to ask for a certificate of insurance to verify they have liquor liability in place and not just general liability.
The next tip is to create an environment that encourages alcohol consumption in moderation. People tend not to over serve themselves when it is a cash bar vs an open bar. We have all been to parties where two or three drink vouchers are offered per person. Clearly this is not foolproof, but it helps limit how much the company is contributing towards consumption. Another tip is to limit the amount of time the bar is open. The longer the party, the more opportunity people have to consume alcohol. Shutting the bar down for about 30 minutes or 1 hour before the party ends is a good idea as well. The last tip is to make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks and food available throughout the night. This seems like a no-brainer, but making sure everyone has an option to drink something besides alcohol and offering food to fill their bellies is a good idea.
Holiday Traditions and Decorations
In today’s environment, companies even struggle over what to call the party. There are varying stances on this, but the bottom line is to be sure to consider the diversity and culture of your company when deciding what to call your party. You can attempt to be inclusive and call it a Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa party while unintentionally being exclusive to the folks who don’t celebrate any of these. Most companies are sticking with ‘holiday party’ but the title of this blog comes from the term the fictional company in Office Christmas Party came up with to make the party feel ‘more inclusive.’
Even if you call it a holiday party but put up a nativity scene with baby Jesus or a Menora, it can send the wrong signal. Some companies form a diverse planning committee on this to make different faiths feel represented in the planning process. Some company cultures might be okay with including symbols of all religions while others might prefer leaving them out completely.
The last tip here is to make the party completely voluntary with no judgement or repercussion for not attending. Even calling it ‘highly encouraged’ can have a bad connotation. It is hard to please everyone. Perhaps an individual has a religious conflict, a struggle with alcohol or a phobia of driving at night. Making sure the party is completely voluntary without judgement or repercussions gives someone an out.
How Does All of This Affect Insurance?
The most common question I get during the holiday season is what does my liability policy cover.
General Liability: From a general liability viewpoint, a company can be held liable if the proper precautions are not taken and someone is hurt from a drinking and driving accident after the party. This is why it is important to use third party vendors who are insured to serve alcohol. You may see that liquor liability is excluded on your general liability policy. Keep in mind that liquor liability is excluded for companies who are in the business of manufacturing, selling or serving alcohol. Since you are a tech company, this exclusion would not apply.
Employment Practices Liability: This is essential to a policy covering all HR issues related to the party. Discrimination and sexual harassment claims are possibilities here. We discussed discrimination based on religion above, but we have not discussed sexual harassment. Even with the best of intentions, alcohol can impair judgement. Perhaps an employee says something inappropriate to a co-worker or gets overly aggressive on the dance floor, making another employee feel uncomfortable. This is why it is important to make sure your employment practices liability policy is in place.
Our tip here is to ask your legal counsel about your liability and agent if you have questions about coverage for your holiday party.
Summary of Top Tips:
- Be cognizant of your company’s diversity and culture during planning
- Encourage everyone to have a plan for getting home prior to the party
- Encourage the use of a ride share such as Uber of Lyft
- Don’t ride scooters or electric bikes after drinking at night
- Use third party vendors and TABC certified servers
- Make it a cash bar or use drink tickets drink vouchers
- Don’t make it mandatory or ‘highly encouraged’
- Ask your lawyer or commercial insurance agent if you have questions