Home > Tax Articles > Tips to Avoid Company-Sponsored Holiday Party Liability

Tips to Avoid Company-Sponsored Holiday Party Liability

by Susan Wilson Solovic
As an employer, you can be held liable for actions that occur during or as the result of your company-sponsored social event - particularly if alcohol is being served. It's a concept known as social host liability, and it is recognized by many courts across the country.  While each state's laws differ, there are some general guidelines you can follow to make sure your holiday festivities are fun, safe and don't land you in court. 

- Make sure employees understand attendance at the company-sponsored event is purely voluntary. Eliminate any perception that work is being conducted.
- Plan your menu carefully so as there aren't a lot of salty foods.  When people are thirsty, they naturally drink more.
- Don't provide a self-serve bar for guests. Either serve your guests their drinks or hire a professional bartender who can recognize when someone has had enough.
- Opt for a cash bar instead of an open bar. Or limit the number of free drinks for each guest. 
- Consider hosting your holiday party in the afternoon instead of the evening. People tend to drink less during the day.
- Arrange for designated drivers and/or provide alternative transportation. Don't let someone talk you into driving home when they have had a few too many.
- Make sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available for your guests. 
- Close the bar about an hour prior to the end of the party.  As an alternative, provide a coffee and desert bar. 
- Don't consume alcohol yourself during the event.  It is important for you to keep a clear head so you can make prudent judgments.
As a business owner, remember, even though it's a party, it is still business related.  You should manage it with the same propriety you manage your business every day. It is possible to host a fun holiday event, without exposing your business to potential costly liability.

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