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Gifts, Alcohol, Mistletoe... Avoiding Legal Issues At Your Office Holiday Party

Jason Eppink

It's the time of the season for holiday workplace parties, and one local attorney wants to make sure you keep your job, and keep your record clean this year.
Maybe at your workplace it's just a cookie exchange or an ugly sweater day, or perhaps the boss springs for something a bit more elaborate.

As employers take this opportunity to show their appreciation to their staff with a special lunch or dinner, including alcohol.
What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty, according to Jacksonville attorneys John Phillips and T.C. Roberts. They joined Melissa Ross with their tips to stay out of any Yuletide legal trouble.
"Do not have an open bar at your event," Phillips advised employers. "Over-consumption of alcohol and resulting damages for the 'under the influence' employee is always a grave concern, or should be."

Instead, an employer can include giving out tickets to employees, which limit the number of drinks the company will provide, or manage the bar with a professional bartender to monitor drink access and intoxication of employees.  
Also, Phillips says, make sure you've encouraged a designated driver and have taxi information readily available, and make sure food is served.
A few more tips from Phillips:

  • Make sure your insurance policies cover after-hours events. 
  • Sometimes, discrimination issues can result. Make attendance at holiday events voluntary. If employees do not attend, they should not be treated any differently than if they had attended.
  • Keep activities secular and nonreligious. Be sensitive to religious dietary restrictions.
  • Finally, As silly as it may sound, avoid mistletoe. No kissing at the office!

"It may be funny, but can lead to sexual harassment or offensive jokes and there is no legal benefit," said Phillips of the traditionally romantic garland. 
You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.