Hosting a Fun and Safe Holiday Work Party

Published On: November 30th, 2018Categories: Commercial Insurance

Work holiday parties are a time for co-workers to laugh, mingle, and connect. As the party host, we have to share tips to keep everyone in the season’s spirit!

The holiday season is filled with events full of good cheer, connection, and fun. And while these events have every right to be focused on maximizing the enjoyment for staff, they can create a series of risks for the company hosting the party. Consider if an employee is injured at the party or causes damages – the employer is often on the hook. Depending on the significance of the injury or damage, it can lead to costly litigation and damage to your company’s reputation.

Companies need to have the right insurance coverage before the party beings to recover larger losses. Saying this, there are several best practices to minimize risk so you can focus on maximizing fun.

How do we responsibly serve alcohol at the holiday party?

If alcohol is served, you will be classified as a ‘social host.’ Why is this important? Social hosts may be responsible for their guests’ acts both at the party and after the party. An employer may be liable following a drunken driving or similar incident.

While the obvious way to limit alcohol liability risks is to avoid serving it, this is not common practice. To promote the safety of employees and guests at employer events, consider these best practices:

  • Host event at a restaurant or hotel (away from your office);
  • Make available non-alcoholic beverage options;
  • Utilize bar stations instead of servers circulating the room. This slows down consumption;
  • Minimize free or low-cost alcohol. It is common to provide an ‘open bar,’ but it is safer to give a ‘free drink ticket’ or two instead;

How do we monitor marijuana consumption at a company-sponsored party?

Marijuana is legal now in Canada. Similar to alcohol, cannabis can increase risk at the party. However, it may not be permitted to smoke cannabis in certain areas depending on location. Post-party can be dangerous too. Approximately 34% of vehicle crash deaths can be linked to drug-impaired driving, nearly the same percentage as crashes related to alcohol.

To keep guests safe and avoid liability concerns, consider stating the party’s rules for cannabis consumption. Remind employees that although it is a social event, it is still a work function, and workplace policies apply.

How do we keep workplace harassment and discrimination out of the party?

You may have heard stories of inappropriate behaviour at holiday party functions. However, you may not have heard that workplace harassment and discrimination policies are still present at company-sponsored events. Not enforcing these policies at a party can lead to costly litigation and claims.

In a harassment-related issue, does your organization have Employee Practices Liability coverage in place?

Additional best practices include:

  • Aiming to have a single entrance and exit for the party. This makes it easier to know who is at the party and easier to keep unknown guests from entering;
  • Making the event a family party where employees can bring their spouse, partner, children, or friend. This certainly helps to deter inappropriate behaviour;
  • Avoid making attendance mandatory. Employees who do not want to be at the party may be more likely to take out their frustration on others at the party;
  • Keep event themes and decorations as neutral as possible. Ideally, your holiday party would not refer to certain religions or beliefs. It is also important to pick a party date that does not conflict with a religious holiday.

How do we best manage food in-sensitivities?

Food is often a centrepiece of any great party. Food is also helpful to keep party-goers sober (starchy foods help reduce alcohol absorption). However, there are food-related risks employers would benefit from considering.

If an employee or guest gets sick from food, there is the potential to sue the employer for negligence.

To minimize food-related risks, employer best practices include:

  • Ask employees to disclose any allergies they or their guests have. Two solid ways to manage this would be to (a) have employees respond to the RSVP and (b) have employees reach out to the event coordinator directly;
  • If you are serving a buffet, include food cards that list ingredients in the food. If it is a sit-down meal, request the ingredients be listed on the menu;
  • For added protection against illness, employers can ask those preparing the food to share their preparation and handling practices.
  • Moreover, when working with a third-party food provider, ensure they have proper insurance in place.

Is property damage a concern at our party?

Property damage can occur at just about any party, even small, company-sponsored events. As the host, it’s your job to ensure your guests remain safe, behave appropriately, and respect the venue and its contents.

To do so, employers should:

  • Set behaviour expectations before the party.
  • Have supervisors and managers chaperone the event, looking closely for inappropriate behaviour. Hire third-party security personnel as needed.
  • Remove valuable items from the party area wherever possible. Ensure any areas you don’t want guests to enter are locked, roped off, or secured.
  • Review your liability insurance and know what it covers.
  • Ensure the venue is equipped to handle the number of individuals invited to the party.

Secure the Coverage You Need in Advance

Even if you take all the appropriate precautions, incidents can still occur. As such, all organizations need to secure adequate insurance.

Each business is different and may require additional policies to account for all of its exposures. Contact our team at Bryson Insurance today. We would be happy to discuss having a safe holiday party and other insurance needs.

Happy Holidays!

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