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Holiday business party dos and don'ts

Published On: Nov 21 2013 12:29:27 PM EST
office holiday party workers in Christmas hats

iStock / Alija

By THELAW.TV

Office holiday parties are a merry tradition for one and all -- time to pull out the champagne and celebrate the season! But employees need not be naughty at the holiday party, nor small-business owners neglect the potential legal liabilities of hosting a party. Because, in the event they do transpire, you could receive a lawsuit for Christmas or bring in the New Year unemployed.

According to a 2012 survey by Battalia Winston, alcoholic drinks are served at 79 percent of office parties -- making it merry, but don't get too merry. Drinks can make the party fun but also tend to encourage inappropriate flirtatious behavior and may lead to drunken driving. These mishaps can create legal and physical danger for both employees and the company overall. Not to mention put a damper on the holiday spirit!

To kick-off the season, Rocket Lawyer provided an early holiday gift for small-business owners by highlighting Five Holiday Party Dos and Don'ts, encouraging all small businesses and their employees to stay nice and avoid the naughty.

1. Get a gift from Uncle Sam. Expenses for your holiday party should be tax deductible, as long the party isn't overly lavish or wholly unrelated to work activities. But stay organized and keep those receipts. You never know when you might run into a Grinch-like IRS agent who doesn't share your holiday spirit.

2. Make sure you're driving the sleigh. The biggest legal mistake small businesses make is not getting an agreement in writing. When you're planning your party, make sure you have contracts with all of your holiday vendors from the DJ to the caterer that clearly state payment and cancellation policies.

3. Don't get caught underneath the mistletoe. Nearly 45 percent of Americans have seen someone share inappropriate personal details about themselves with a co-worker or supervisor at a work event according to a 2012 study from Caron Treatment Centers. Make sure you have a game plan in place for how to handle inappropriate behavior that could potentially lead to a sexual harassment claim when spirits are high and alcohol is served.

4. Check your list twice. Often, event spaces will require you to release them from liability at a holiday party. If something happens, like someone slips while dancing around the Christmas tree, you need to have liability insurance to cover it. Check with your current business insurance policy to see if it's something your current plan will cover, or if you need to purchase a short-term policy.

5. Keep an eye on the eggnog. If alcohol is served at a company event, small businesses can be liable for accidents that happen on the way home. It's wise to offer cabs and coordinate designated drivers in advance of the party to protect everyone's safety -- 57 percent of workers have witnessed a fellow partygoer drive under the influence and 64 percent have called in sick due to a hangover the next day, according to the same Caron survey. Also consider serving food, and limit the amount of the time the bar is open to keep things from getting too jolly.