It’s that time of year again – time for the office parties we either look forward to or dread.
Employers have another reason to potentially dread parties: accidents. What happens if someone is injured during one of these parties? Who is liable? And how can they cut down on liability?
It’s a good question, and you know what they say: questions like these are good questions because they’ve happened before. There have been plenty of instances where someone was injured at a holiday party and liability came up. So, this isn’t some hypothetical question – it’s a very real legal question that can take the cheer from the best time of the year.
Knowledge Is Power
The first thing a business owner needs to know is that so-called “social host” laws apply. In Alabama, these are called dram shop laws. Dram shop laws are simple on the surface: they say that if a person is injured by an intoxicated person, the victim can sue the entity that provided the intoxicated person with alcohol.
So, if you provide champagne at your party and someone hurts someone else, you could be liable under the law for that injury.
The theory is that you, as the provider of the alcohol, have a responsibility to make sure you’re not giving alcohol to people who are beyond their limit. If someone is clearly intoxicated, and they’re not cut off, that could expose the supplier to liability.
The key here is that serving alcohol must be “contrary to the provisions of law.” In Alabama, the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board forbids serving alcohol to someone who appears to be intoxicated. This typically only applies to vendors, and you’re not selling the alcohol at your party. But, you’re not in the clear; state law still requires you, as a social host, to not serve alcohol to intoxicated guests.
And your employees are your guests.
Now, if someone has had a little too much to drink and they hurt themselves, you’re not liable under social host laws.
But – and in law, there’s always a but – you may be liable to anyone who is injured on your premises if the conditions are unreasonably unsafe and dangerous. That falls under premises liability law. So, if you have a party at the office and someone shocks themselves on exposed wiring, or if they slip and fall on a wet area that is unmarked and dangerous, you could be liable for their injury.
There’s yet another area in which you could be liable, and that involves sexual harassment. You can be liable for a sexual harassment suit if you have fostered an environment that could reasonably be expected to be conducive to harassment. Or, if you notice harassment occurring at the party but don’t do anything about it.
How can you avoid liability and make sure everyone has a good time?
- Be careful about who you give alcohol to. If they’re clearly intoxicated, cut them off.
- Give out drink tickets. This limits people to the number of tickets you give each person. (Be careful; people can “borrow” drink tickets from other people.)
- Provide alternatives to alcohol.
- Make sure the environment you’re having the party in is completely safe and free from hazards you’d reasonably be expected to know about.
- Make sure everyone is in a central location that is easily monitored yet still has adequate access to exits in case of an emergency.
Holiday parties can be great. As a business owner, you want them to be great and safe. Follow those guidelines and you’ll ring in the new year with fun, not a legal headache.
Looking for more information about liability at office parties? Contact us today.