Don’t Get Sued Over Your Firm’s Holiday Party

HOLIDAY PARTIES have made a comeback despite, or maybe because of, more people working remotely. Many managers want to bring their teams together under one roof as it’s become apparent that connecting face-toface is vital to a vibrant and cohesive work atmosphere.

But if you are planning on throwing a company holiday party, there are a number of considerations for you to keep everyone safe and avoid issues that can result in legal liability.

Alcohol can bring trouble

The biggest risks you face arise if you throw a party that serves alcohol. A 2018 survey found that one in three office workers had done something at an office holiday party that they regret, and two in five said they’d seen occurences at parties evolve into office drama, altercations or scandals.


  • Make clear in party announcements and reinforced through memos that the rules of conduct in the office apply at the party.
  • Limit consumption to two drinks. Drink tickets are a good way to go.
  • Serve drinks with lower alcohol content (beer/wine – not shots).
  • Offer a signature company “mocktail,” and provide water and non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Stop serving at least an hour before the shindig ends.
  • Provide plenty of food to snack on, particularly high-carbohydrate and highprotein foods.
  • Hold the event at a hotel and offer free rooms to those who want to stay the night.
  • Offer free Uber rides to your staff so they can get home safely.
  • Ask your managers to lead by example.

The best advice is not to serve alcohol at your event. That will greatly reduce the chances of problems like the following:

Bad behavior and conflict – If hostilities erupt, it puts you the employer in danger of being sued by one of the parties and others may be drawn into the fracas.

Hook-ups between staff – These are a common occurrence and can lead to a longterm romance or awkward times at work.

Worse, alcohol-fueled aggressive come-ons can spill over into outright sexual harassment — another legal peril.

Drunk driving – If someone has been drinking at your holiday party and injures themselves or others on the drive home, you may be held liable, particularly if you had an open bar and didn’t set limits on how many drinks an employee can be served.

Food safety

The other big issue is food safety. It’s not uncommon for food from a catering service to sicken partygoers.

At an office party, foodborne illness can occur when people eat certain items that were either undercooked or left out at room temperature for too long.

Eggs, raw egg products (e.g., eggnog), meat, seafood, and even fruits and vegetables (if not properly washed) are some of the most common offenders. Add to that the possibility of poor hygienic practices by the caterer’s staff.


Observe the two-hour rule: don’t let foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours. For refrigerated items like deviled eggs, consider putting a few out at a time and replenishing when needed.

  • Place hot foods in crockpots, chaffing dishes, or on warming plates to maintain a safe temperature.
  • Cover food containers in the buffet line when not in use.
  • Use large spoons, forks, wax paper, tongs and other serving tools to avoid touching food by hand.
  • If you suspect anything has been out too long, toss it.