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The Liability Of Your Company Holiday Parties


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 | November 29, 2017
The liability of your company holiday parties

Everyone looks forward to the office holiday party. It’s a time to socialize with the whole company, boost employee morale, raise money for charity, and start the new year strong. But for employers, holiday parties can also be a liability. In fact, under the United States Department of Labor, employers are subject to all insurance claims and laws even “off the clock” during a holiday party. You need to take precautions this season to ensure your business—and its employees—are properly protected and insured.

Liquor Liability

Serving alcohol at a party is always a liability.

44 states have liquor liability laws. This puts liability and responsibility on any bartender or establishment that serves alcohol to someone who is intoxicated or underage. In most states, these laws also include “social hosts,” like an office party or even an intimate Christmas party with friends. Basically, this places some liability on the host or server. In some states, criminal charges may apply too.

For example, one of your employees drives home drunk from the office party. They collide with another car, and the other driver is injured. That driver can sue your company—the one who served the alcohol—for damages.

Consider “Holiday Party” Insurance

Make sure your business is fully protected with the appropriate amount of “holiday party insurance.” Your commercial general liability policy will often cover liquor liability in these cases. However, you should check with an insurance broker to ensure your policy covers social events and “off-the-clock” hours as well. This helps pay for any potential damages if your business is sued and found at-fault, like in the case that a business over-served one of their employees who then drove home and caused an accident.

You may also want to consider Employment Practices Liability Insurance. This will protect your business from costs associated with cases of discrimination, sexual harassment, emotional distress, and other workplace-related issues. This is especially important for holiday parties. It’s possible that someone can drink too much and say something inappropriate or engage in wrongful conduct. If so, the victim could also sue your company for certain damages related to that employee’s behaviors at the company party.

If you’re hosting the company party at your house, you will want to ensure you are fully covered by your homeowners’ insurance. This means you will need personal liability coverage, which will help protect against any costs if you are sued for damages in your home. This would cover any liquor liability as well as slips, trips, burns, or other injuries on your property. You may also want to consider purchasing an umbrella plan to create an additional line of liability coverage. You should also update your home inventory and contents coverage to ensure all of your valuables are fully covered in case of damage or theft during the party.

Prevention Methods

You should also take certain precautions to ensure that no one over-drinks, drinks and drives, or acts inappropriately. Taking a few key steps will protect against costly insurance claims.

  • On the holiday party invitation, remind employees to be responsible and drink in moderation.
  • Ensure that management leads by example and does not over-drink.
  • Hire a professional bartender who is trained at spotting intoxication. He or she can politely cut off an intoxicated individual without embarrassment.
  • Ensure that bartenders are aware of any underage attendees, like interns or part time workers.
  • Don’t have an open bar. Guests will drink less if they have to pay for drinks themselves.
  • If you want to provide the alcohol, create a voucher system with a maximum number of free drinks.
  • Stop serving booze later in the evening. Switch to tea, coffee, and soft drinks.
  • Always offer food and non-alcoholic beverages. Food can help soak up the alcohol to avoid guests getting drunk.
  • Offer cab services to employees free of charge to avoid drinking and driving.
  • If you see that someone is intoxicated, put him or her in a cab yourself.
  • Host the party off-site. This helps share the liability with the restaurant or hotel—although you are still on the hook in many cases.
  • Create a safe environment. Visit the party area ahead of time to remove any dangerous concerns, like icy walkways or exposed cords. 

The Bottom Line

Take precautions and ensure full insurance coverage to protect against liability this holiday season. When you have your insurance and you’ve laid down the liquor laws, it’s time to party! Happy holidays from all of us at InsuraMatch! Stay safe this season!