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Detroit, Mich. —Dec. 3, 2014 — Tis’ the season of giving and holiday office parties; however, an employer’s intention to host a fun gathering for employees to celebrate a year of hard work and the holidays can sometimes backfire. Patricia Nemeth, founder of Nemeth Law, P.C., a Detroit-based management labor and employment law firm, urges employers to revisit their holiday party plans to ensure employees stay safe – and employers avoid legal trouble during this festive time of year.
After counseling clients for years about holiday party hosting best practices, Nemeth Law, P.C. founder, Patricia Nemeth offers the following five tips for employers to host a celebratory yet safe holiday gathering, with or without alcohol.
1. Schedule the party for a reasonable number of hours and have the party start and end earlier in the evening (e.g. from 4 to 7 p.m.), to avoid employees over indulging at a late night party.
2. When serving alcohol, use drink tickets to contain alcohol consumption; use different color tickets for non-alcoholic drinks so non-drinkers can’t offer their tickets to their colleagues. Also, make sure plenty of food is being served so employees are not consuming alcohol on an empty stomach.
3. Arrange for transportation in advance in case there are employees who may need a ride home at the last minute.
4. Host the party at an off-site location so if the need arises, a third party bartender can handle the duty of cutting off any employees who have over-indulged.
5. Consider hosting a breakfast/lunch holiday party on the day the office is scheduled to close early. Employees will appreciate getting to leave earlier in the day and the timing eliminates the problems that can arise when alcohol is being served (see 2 -4).
If a problem does arise in connection with a holiday party, whether from a traffic accident resulting from excessive drinking at the party, an accident en route to or from the party, or claims of sexual harassment against a peer or supervisor at the party, is the employer liable? Yes and no, says Nemeth.
“Generally speaking, an employer is not responsible when an employee injuries himself or others when acting outside the scope of employment,” Nemeth said. “However, Michigan courts left open the possibility that under certain circumstances, the employer may be at fault.”
According to Nemeth, cases where an employer was found liable occurred when an employer acted as host, continued to serve alcohol to a visibly drunk employee, and then did nothing to stop that employee from driving. Also, when an employee was required to attend a social event in order to entertain clients or colleagues and was injured during the course of the event.
About Nemeth Law, P.C.
Nemeth Law specializes in employment litigation, traditional labor law, mediation and arbitration and management consultation for private and public sector employers. It is the largest woman-owned law firm in Michigan to exclusively represent management in the prevention, resolution and litigation of labor and employment disputes.