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Office Parties Not the Time to "Party"

December 13, 2007

Tips to Protect Employers During Office Holiday Party Season

Philadelphia, December 13, 2007- It's holiday office party time - a time for building morale among the troops, giving thanks for the work well done over the past year, and camaraderie. However, it's that camaraderie that can be taken a little too far, which can have disastrous effects for employers and employees.

"Let's face it, there will always be certain employees who view the holiday party as a time to shelve the rules of decent conduct," says Jill Fisher, Esq ., head of the employment law practice group at the Philadelphia-based law firm of Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy P.C. "Over the years, employer-sponsored holiday parties have resulted in increasing and varied litigation, including social host liability, workers' compensation claims, and sexual harassment in the form of innuendo, jokes or more overt advances."

"No matter what state laws apply to an individual workplace, employers can take practical steps to reduce injuries to employees and minimize potential liability to the company."

Fisher suggests the following steps for the three main areas of concern for employers:

Sexual Harassment

•  Do not make attendance at the company holiday party mandatory.

•  Remind employees before the party of the company's sexual harassment policy, and give some specific examples of unacceptable conduct.

•  Consider instituting a specific policy regarding employer-sponsored events.

•  Consider allowing spouses or significant others to attend the event.

•  Remind management of their responsibility to ensure that employees are not subjected to a "hostile" party environment. Caution management not to ignore sexually inappropriate behavior that is obviously upsetting someone. Consider designating someone as an "overseer."

•  Investigate any and all complaints of sexual harassment.

Intoxicated Employees

•  Consider having the party off company premises, at a restaurant or other place where professional caterers serve the alcohol.

•  If the party is held at the employer's premises, hire a professional bartender to dispense the alcoholic drinks. Instruct the servers not to serve alcohol to visibly intoxicated employees.

•  Consider limiting the amount of alcohol served, either with a voucher system or limiting the serving hours.

•  Implement an alternative transportation system (taxis or designated drivers) so that employees feel safe traveling to and from the event. Do not allow a visibly intoxicated employee to drive.

•  Consider arranging for overnight lodging for employees who choose not to, or are unable to, travel after the party.

Workers' Compensation

•  Inform employees ahead of time that the holiday party is voluntary and serves no business purpose.

•  Consider holding the event off-premises and after work hours (or on the weekend).

•  Do not take attendance at the party or event and don't conduct business.

Founded 47 years ago, Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy P.C. is a full-service Phil adelphia-based law firm with offices in Harrisburg , and Montgomery County , Pa. , and Jersey City , Linwood and Marlton , NJ .

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