Holiday Safety: Tip No. 2

Dec. 4, 2000
As corporations gear up for holiday parties to reward employees and celebrate the end of the year, they need to make sure their festivities don't result in costly lawsuits.

"U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that employers may be liable for acts of sexual harassment and discrimination committed by supervisory employees," said Rob Hunter, manager of the Charlotte, N.C., office of Marsh, a risk advisor and insurance broker. "So employers need to monitor their employment practices closely at all times -- and the holiday parties are no exception."

Marsh, which works with a number of employers to reduce the risk of employment lawsuits, advises taking the following steps to ensure that holiday parties are enjoyable for all employees and risks are minimized for the employer:

  • Watch the venue. Employees have brought lawsuits against firms whose local offices have held parties at inappropriate locations.
  • Check accessibility. Before deciding on a site for a party, make sure it''s accessible to any employees with disabilities or special needs.
  • Restrict alcohol consumption. Work with the caterer or restaurant to limit the number of alcoholic beverages served to employees.
  • Brief supervisors. Remind supervisors that office parties are an extension of the workplace and that they need to respond to discrimination or harassment situations as they would occur during the course of business.
  • Assess ability of attendees to get home safely. Appoint a company supervisor to consider whether an employee or other attendee can drive or otherwise get home safely, and make appropriate travel arrangements, if necessary.
  • Investigate all complaints. Failure to respond to any complaint can lead to greater liability than the alleged misconduct.

"Courts consider holiday parties to be part of the work environment," said Hunter. "Employers are held responsible for condoning illicit or inappropriate behavior that creates a hostile environment."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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