Company Holiday Party Legal Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them

The Boy Scout Motto is “Be Prepared.” Are you prepared to limit your company’s potential liability at your upcoming holiday party?

Recommendations to avoid potentially serious liability include the following:

Workers Compensation Liability

  • Separate the holiday party from the workplace by (i) making sure employees know attendance is not mandatory and there is no business purpose for the event; and (ii) holding the event at a venue other than the workplace.
  • Verify venue and service providers are properly insured.
  • Choose a safe and appropriate off-site venue.

Wage and Hour Claims by Nonexempt Employees

  • Let employees know that attendance is voluntary.
  • Avoid asking employees to help with the party, thereby limiting the potential for wage claims.
  • Hold the party outside normal business hours.
  • Limit claims by not conducting business at the event, including service awards, distribution of bonuses, and any talks/speeches about business matters.

Liabilities Related to Alcohol Consumption

  • Check your company’s liability insurance for coverage related to employee actions while intoxicated.
  • Provide alternative transportation.
  • Hold the party off-site where the venue has a commercial liquor license and experienced bartenders.
  • Hire your own professional bartender or caterer if you hold your party on-site.
  • Never allow employees to act as bartenders.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol that will be consumed by (i) using drink tickets or only serving drinks during a certain time period; (ii) having a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and food available; (iii) providing entertainment or other activities to move the focus away from alcohol; and (iv) encouraging employees to lookout for intoxicated co-workers.

Sexual Harassment

  • Consider allowing guests to attend – most people behave better when they are accompanied by their significant others.
  • Verify or implement employee policies addressing employer-sponsored social functions that specify what types of conduct are unacceptable.
  • Keep your activities and customs appropriate for the workplace.


David G. Angerbauer is a shareholder in DJP’s Business and Finance section.  Mr. Angerbauer has extensive experience representing highly-visible, highly-regulated clients, including Porsche, Medtronic, SolarCity, EnergySolutions and First Interstate BancSystem.  He is effective in developing and executing strategic objectives with senior executives to drive enterprise growth, improve operating performance and maximize shareholder value.

Contact Mr. Angerbauer at 801.297.1348 or email [email protected]