Avoiding A Workplace Holiday Party Lawsuit Hangover

by FordHarrison

[author: Jamie Mahler]

Executive Summary:  'Tis the season for workplace holiday parties, which can bring about questionable and awkward behavior as co-workers mingle with alcohol. To prevent a legal hangover, employers should take some upfront precautions with regard to their holiday and end-of-the-year parties.

Holiday parties typically generate a surge of sexual harassment complaints, as employees often lose their inhibitions while drinking alcohol in a festive environment. It is well established that the office holiday party is part of the "working environment" when analyzing a "hostile work environment" claim. Thus, unwelcome sexual conduct at an office party that is sufficiently severe or pervasive can constitute sexual harassment.

To avoid occurrences of sexual harassment, employers should consider the following ideas for their holiday party:

  • Circulate a memo the day of the party reminding employees that it is an occasion for colleagues to celebrate the company's performance in a joyful, yet professional, manner.  Make employees aware that the employer will not tolerate misconduct of any kind.
  • Provide employees with proper training on the company's sexual harassment policy.
  • Train supervisors on the proper handling of violations of that policy. 
  • Consider inviting significant others to the event to help curb inappropriate behavior.
  • Refrain from displaying mistletoe because it is likely to incite unwelcome behavior. 
  • Establish rules prohibiting sexually charged gift exchanges (gift cards are the safest bet).
  • Promptly investigate any complaint of sexual harassment that is made.

It comes as no surprise that alcohol is a contributing factor in the vast majority of holiday party sexual harassment claims. Although the law only prohibits unwelcome sexual advances, alcohol skews the judgment of harassers and victims alike, and conduct that seemed acceptable during a period of intoxication may be unacceptable in retrospect. While eliminating alcohol altogether might not be realistic, there are many things employers can do to mitigate the risks and to minimize overindulgence:

  • Consider having a holiday lunch or coordinating a volunteer event.
  • For evening events, ensure there is a set end time and close the bar an hour or more before that time.
  • Exclude hard liquor from the menu (serve only beer and/or wine).
  • Consider designating certain senior supervisors to oversee the event and remain sober during the festivities.
  • Hire a professional bartender or hold the event at a location offering bartending services.  Allowing employees to serve themselves could encourage them to pour too generously and/or refill their drinks too frequently.
  • Establish a maximum number of drinks that an individual can have.  For instance, some companies have utilized drink tickets or vouchers (two is standard).
  • Alternatively consider offering a cash bar and donating the cash received to a non-profit organization.
  • Ensure the availability of many non-alcoholic beverages and plenty of food.

Employers' Bottom Line:  While holiday parties can be a source of liability for employers, these suggestions can help ensure your party remains issue free.

This Alert was written by Jamie Mahler, an attorney with the Lowenbaum Partnership, L.L.C., a FordHarrison affiliate law firm.  

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© FordHarrison | Attorney Advertising

Written by:


FordHarrison on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.