December 10, 2019

5 Steps to Risk-Proof Company Holiday Socials

Looking forward to your company’s holiday party this year?  Are you doing anything

special to celebrate the past year of claims-handling successes and challenges? 

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With the year-end holiday season, many insurers, TPA’s and related claim organizations eagerly await festive company-sponsored social events that reward workers, encourage bonding and provide healthy outlets for relaxation. 

While these events serve a positive purpose, parties, socials and similar events can create legal liabilities.  Employees leaving company socials after drinking immoderately may – while driving home — injure themselves or others.  Alcohol-induced settings may lower inhibitions as well, producing environments conducive to sexual harassment claims.  Poorly managed socials can create potential legal liabilities.

Bah humbug, you say?  Before decking the halls with boughs of holly, consider the following steps to ensure that holiday socials do not cause your company personnel and legal headaches.

#1.  Offer cab fare reimbursement – no questions asked  A former corporate risk manager – an inveterate iconoclast — recalls, “About 20 years ago (after a holiday accident involving drinking and a company car) we started an annual `Rickshaw Rebate.’ We’d offer up to $20 reimbursement to any employee who went to a holiday party, had `too much’ and took a taxi, bus, ferry, train, or rickshaw home. No questions asked, nothing in the personnel file, just send a receipt. We didn’t have many takers, but didn’t have any holiday accidents either.”  

“The branch/office manager was not involved, hence an employee would not be embarrassed to submit a receipt. What we often got was a receipt for a van where multiple employees hired a van or limo with driver for a party, and split the cost between six or seven employees. That, too, was okay, as long as it kept them out of their own cars and off the highway.”

#2.  Hold Socials Off-Premises and Invite Families  If you must have a holiday social, hold it away from the plant, factory or office.  Include employees’ families – including children. A crowd’s demeanor changes dramatically with families present.  A calmer, more sedate atmosphere encourages sobriety and reduces the odds of driving while intoxicated.

#3.  Establish Drinking Maximums  Once an employer provides alcohol, liability expands.  Avoid this by setting drink limits in advance.  For example, at one function, a risk manager approved a two-drink maximum.  Employees didn’t know this until they arrived.  If they wanted to continue consumption, they had to stroll down to the bar next door.

Another office held a barbecue and free bar lasting all afternoon.  In strategic places around the building, though, were signs saying, “The police are aware of Friday’s function – please make sensible arrangements for getting home”.

#4.  Outsource the Alcohol Service Make sure that the company is not “serving” the alcohol.  In other words, any bar should be tended by an employee of the host establishment (hotel, restaurant or club).  Make sure all invitees are aware that their attendance is discretionary, not required. 

Make sure that an agent of the company or host is authorized to pay for cabs or rooms if someone seems to be too tipsy to drive, etc. Have someone else serve the alcohol i.e. restaurant hotel etc. If they use their own premises and do not want to rely on their own liability insurance, purchase a “host liquor policy” for the party.

#5.  Hold the party during the day and serve non-alcoholic punch.   No law says that such parties always must be at night.  Employee’s schedules are jam-packed during the holiday season.  Many workers might appreciate not having the stress of trying to cram an already busy schedule and dress up for a quasi-obligatory company social function which they’re too tired to enjoy fully.  Having the social on-site – sans alcohol — solves this problem and lowers the potential for post-party mishaps.

Company Christmas and holiday socials illustrate the occasional conflict between legitimate celebration and sober-minded risk management. The only way to eliminate risk with certainty is to avoid it entirely.   

To avoid problems from company-sponsored holiday socials, consider these seven tips.  Sound risk management can create an environment that fosters fun and conviviality, without the sponsoring company playing the role of Scrooge.

           

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